By Angela Martin
I am driving to pick up my youngest son John at Villanova today, the Friday before Mother’s Day. It is a trip I’ve made countless times in this his freshman year.
Saying goodbye on the first day of his first semester was difficult, not because he was my last to leave home, but because he was very sick. I was strong for him then, holding my tears for the drive home and then on the ride to Cape Cod for our annual August vacation – our first vacation without our children. I wrote in an earlier blog entry about the tenuous peace I made with letting him go – with letting both of my boys go as I began my life as an empty nester, a life I didn’t quite know how to live.
After all, I’m a mother.
I had been a mother first and foremost for more than 20 years, no matter what other roles I held in this life. The “who was I now?” questions in those early days gave way to still being a hands-on mother to John, as his illness was diagnosed as mono. I drove right back to Villanova from Cape Cod to get a hotel room so he could sleep and I could care for him. And so his year went with other health difficulties, an accident, and the death of a beloved grandfather.
John has since passed Resiliency 101 and 102 – courses of life that were not offered in his school’s curriculum. No, these courses chose John. He learned the truth of this life that pain and joy are lived together at once, even at college. He is all the better for having walked through these lessons day by day, moment by moment as a young man. His shoulders are broader, his heart is softer, and his spirit is richer with a deep understanding and connection to the gift of this life. And so are mine.
As I skim in and out of cars on the Garden State Parkway, I look today at the blank stares of countless others going somewhere in a hurry. I can’t help but think of all the trials that slowed us down this year and connected us to what really matters: each other. I know now once and for all that I can’t live or control the lives my children will have. I can still guide them, pray for their wellbeing, and love them with all that I am. And I can take care of myself at meditation sessions and yoga classes at Copper Beech, at my book club and prayer group. These things I can do. These things I will do.
I pull into the parking lot and text John that I am here. He approaches the car with a wide smile, and even though I only saw him weeks ago at his grandfather’s funeral, he is older, wiser, and stronger. People say to me that this is the path of life: that to raise children is to let them go; that we must learn to love them from afar. While this is certainly true, it is not easy. How the mother bird lets go of her babies while they are so young I will never know. The nest is so quiet when they leave. But what is also true is that we can be deeply connected in the present moment when we have them and hold each other deeply in our hearts until the next time. For the four of us, the next time will be on Mother’s Day. I can’t wait for the group hug.
Angela Martin is a writer, author, and the former director of marketing communications at Copper Beech Institute. She writes about the power of friendship and compassion – and her new journey as an empty nester.