I have just gone through one of the hardest experiences I’ve experienced as a parent and I am still alive. My child did not die, my faith would help me navigate that, instead something that to me feels worse happened, my child walked away.
You may say that all parents feel a sadness when the first child leaves. She was not the first, that already happened a little over a year ago as my 19-year-old son left for a two-year adventure in Florida. I know roughly when he’ll return home.
This child, my only daughter, the one I once described as the only female that stole my heart completely the instant I first laid eyes on her, this child chose to leave home early, in her 16th year of life. I am fortunate because I know where she is, I believe she is safe. She did not run off to Hollywood chasing a false dream of fame. She ran away to Colorado to be with the sister she never had but desperately wanted, wanted more than the Father, Mother and little brother she had in hand.
I sat watching the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and there was a scene just before Benjamin decides to leave. He sits on the curb with his infant daughter and releases a balloon into the sky. I remembered all the times we had bought balloons for my daughter, the helium would slowly leak out, and before they stopped floating, I would take her and the balloon outside and tell her that, as sad as we might be, it was time to let it go, to let it be free before it died. What else could you call it when a balloon, an item of pure pleasure and joy looses its ability to be the magical item it is? We’d cut the string short, even if it meant the balloon was only slightly buoyant.
I remembered these times and thought of my daughter. I thought her balloon would float in my home longer. I expected her to leave someday, but in my heart that someday was always in the future, not so distant, but still a few years away, not today, not now.
Her departure came at a bad time as if there is a good time for children to leave. Just after Christmas, while I was ill and too weak to put up more of a fight. She’d wanted to leave, I laugh because she was ready to leave when she was three. I’ve always known she would, it’s just her nature.
What carries me through, to be honest a bit of pure denial. Who can go through this without refusing to believe it has happened. Then the day arrived when we all agreed to be civil, to show mutual respect, to attempt to move forward. With the pain still fresh, it was time to let bygones be bygones, to accept the new reality, maybe this was my coping tool. To believe that things could, would improve was to navigate through the pain, the grief. I do not measure the relationship as it exists today in its state of flux, with the uncertainty. I take the long-term perspective; I live in the moment five years from today when she and I sit and talk over a cup of herbal tea, sharing without blame, survivors of a moment that had to occur.
As the balloon that, only with the string removed, stays slightly afloat, my daughter has shown signs of flight. A love of school that seemed long lost, dreams of college again. She sounds genuinely happy, I hope she is with all my heart. Maybe that will be what carries me through, carries us all through.
I am reminded by a dear friend that she is not mine, she is a child of God only on loan to me. We did not do anything wrong that precipitated this event, she simply chose to exercise her God given free will earlier than we were ready. We were to guide and train her to become a fully functioning adult. Maybe we did our job too well and just finished early.
To be honest, every time we went outside at sunset to set those balloons free, I felt regret, sorrow that the time this item had brought joy into our home was about to end. Now was the time to set it free before it withered and died. If we let it leave, saw it rise slowly into the wonderful fading evening light, it was never really gone, it has escaped the Earth to travel forever in our memory as the splendid thing it was, free to do what it had come to do.
Who would think that the simple act of releasing balloons, setting them free before they lost that elusive ability to fly, could carry you through a moment like this.