Sunday, 6 March 2016

Loss and recovery

I have to record this, as a way of processing emotions at a very happy time. I'm getting to some kind of resolution now, I think. Though it is, indeed, a process.

Our daughter had just married.  My heart was filled with sadness.

Don’t get me wrong. We are DELIGHTED for her, in every way. Her wedding day was completely wonderful. She has married a wonderful Christian man who shares her dreams, passions and vision, as well as many of her interests. He is intentional – as she is – about life, living for God, serving Him in everything they do. They have both lived, separately, lives where they work for charities which serve the poor and now work in an underdeveloped country among people who need help in meeting  the basis needs of life. Not only that, but our son-in-law is from a wonderful family. His parents have served as missionaries in Africa and know some of our dearest friends who are still there, even though we all live on different continents now.

Different continents. Part of the reason for my sadness.

Five years ago, my daughter left the UK to continue her work for a charity which helps people who are in desperate need because of debt. In New Zealand. Once there, she fell in love with the country, decided to stay, applied successfully for residency. So that was that: she was committed to living on the other side of the world and would not be returning to settle.

We were glad for her. New Zealand is indeed a wonderful to live. We visited. We still kept in contact through skype and email, maintaining closeness.  As always, we prayed for her: for her health and well being, her work, her friendships, a future partner...and were delighted when she met ‘Someone Special’.  Even more pleased and thrilled when he proposed during our second visit. Excited for them both, when they suggested that the wedding should be held in New Zealand in an idyllic location on the family farm. Travelling to the other side of the world from our home in the UK seemed a small sacrifice to make for their happiness.

It made sense. Many of her friends – for it was four years now since she left the UK – were in New Zealand. Her husband comes from a large family of siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins. So, a Kiwi wedding: why not? A marquee on the edge of a beautiful harbour in New Zealand’s summer: what’s not to like? Again, we booked our flights. Wedding planning happened remotely over the next few months until we flew out again a couple of weeks before the big day.

The reunion was wonderful: we spent a few days together at a beach cottage, discussing wedding plans, drawing up to-do lists and itineraries, preparing wedding favours, going for a final fitting of The Dress.

And then it was all go for the final week before the wedding. Our son and daughter-in-law and other friends arrived and we journeyed north, staying in a house a few doors away from our son-in-law-to-be’s family. Days were spent preparing: wine-tasting before purchasing the table wine; hosting a bridal tea; making decorations and wedding cakes; setting up the marquee; a wedding rehearsal.

It was busy.

In the busyness, we found ourselves delighting in the company of our son and daughter-in-law and other friends who worked tirelessly to make our daughter’s day happen. We laughed, a lot: but less often with our daughter. She was flying around with her fiancé, checking out locations for the wedding photography or up at his family’s house with all his relatives. It seemed that she spent less and less time with us, as if she was already drawing away from her own family even before she officially joined his.

This was difficult for us, not only because we felt isolated and bereft but also because we were – and are – genuinely very happy for her. Conflicting emotions are never easy to deal with. We swallowed down the stress we felt, trying to maintain a happy atmosphere. We recognised that she was leaving and joining with her husband, but we still wanted her to be our daughter, with the close relationship we had always had. We knew this would not – could not – be possible in exactly the same way as before, but we continued to feel torn apart. 

We acknowledged, too, how hard it was for her as she tried to build new relationships, organising her wedding so that her family could enjoy the day without having to stress to ensure that all happened as it should. She worked incredibly hard to include everyone and make sure they had fun. And, in all the excitement of her wedding, she knew that she would be entering a stressful life period of change of friends, home, job, country.... 

But, of us, one of the hardest things to do was to let go of our daughter.

We did not feel this with our son: indeed, we have become closer since his marriage. We love his wife as if she was our own daughter; we love her parents, who have become such dear friends that they do indeed seem like family, just the same. But even then, we had recognised that the son leaves the parents and cleaves to the wife and that truth, somehow, had taken residence in our hearts.  We were able to let him go and, in doing so, began a new, more independent, relationship which has continued to develop. sEven though we have no expectation that they live near us, we know that visits are possible, even probable.

But my daughter is living on the other side of the world. We know that we will see her only rarely.

In our modern world, this separation becomes more and more likely. It may not be a continental divide, but even a two hour car journey may mean that parents see far less of their children than they would like to.

I have shared this pain with other friends. One woman’s daughter cut her off after the wedding: the relationship had been unusually close.  Now they are best friends again, but at the time it was as if the daughter had to create her own, married, identity away from her mother.  Another friend has not seen her daughter for over four years, as they now live on different continents thousands of miles apart. Yet another feels that her son has become more part of the other family than of his own: she feels a stranger when she visits.  A close friend confesses to feelings of intense jealousy towards her son-in-law’s parents, who live only minutes away from the couple.

We have had many years of being empty-nesters. We encouraged our children’s independence, not demanding weekly phone calls or regular visits once they had left home to go to uni, and then on into work. We wanted them to grow and develop to be the people God wants them to be, still with advice and guidance when appropriate, but no longer children in an emotional sense. We knew they needed to become individuals in their own right apart from us: indeed, we have tried to foster and encourage their independence since they were toddlers. But we now recognise that our daughter’s marriage, especially as her wedding took place somewhere which was not our own home, has finally and categorically sealed her departure from childhood into an independent life.

There were several things we knew we had to do.

1.       Hope. We knew, deep down, that we would not always feel as forlorn as we did just before and after the wedding. We clung on to the hope that, once our daughter had settled into her marriage, we would be able to regain a good measure of closeness. We knew that God would work our relationship out for good and His glory. We held on to hope.

2.       Pray. God knows the pain of separation more acutely than we do. He delights in our love for one another and our sacrifice in letting go. He is our Comforter, in every way. As we grappled with our feelings, we reflected on the pain our father must have felt as his son went to live on earth, coupled with the joy that awaited.  We held on to the truth of Hebrews 12:2, fixing our eyes on Jesus, who endured the cross because of the joy awaiting him. We began to accept sacrifice more than living with the sadness of loss.

3.       Continue in relationship. We would write and email our news and be available for skype or facetime chats. Just as God continually calls us to relationship with him, keeping us in his thoughts and demonstrating his love for us over and over again, so we too are called to love selflessly, regardless of how we might feel. Although my mind acknowledged that my daughter was on honeymoon immediately following the wedding, my heart just felt sore at her departure.  It seemed hard not to be in the same easy contact as we had always been, but, when the time seemed right, I emailed a chatty catch up.

4.       Let go of expectations. Of course we would love regular conversations, but these might not be possible in busy lives. We would learn to be alert for opportunities but not grieve if contact was less frequent than it had been.

5.       Refocus. As if we were youngsters leaving home for the first time, we had to build our lives without an undue focus on our children. Now would be the time to pursue new hobbies and interests, take up voluntary work, become more involved in the local community.

6.       Be positive and thankful. We thanked God for our daughter, for her husband, for his family. We thanked him that both our daughter and son-in-law are so committed to loving and serving him. We thanked God for life and promise and love in abundance. We thanked God.

As we did all this, our emotions started to catch up with head knowledge as we waited to reconnect.

Intellectually, we knew that we would, once our daughter had settled into her marriage, with the additional challenges and demands of living in a new country and embarking on a new career, regain some of that closeness again.  (Indeed, that happened far more quickly than we had imagined: almost as soon as they had returned from honeymoon and arrived in their new place.)

There were unforeseen benefits from this time of waiting:

1.       As we exercised our hope, we found it increased. We trusted more that God would bring our relationship back into order. We found it easier to wait.

2.       Prayer brought us closer to God. Our understanding of the tremendous sacrifice he made in sending Jesus deepened in a new way, as we reflected on the act of ‘giving away’ our daughter.

3.       Deciding to wait until the honeymoon was over – yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds but I felt quite desperate after waving my daughter off on her wedding night, with no communication since then – was an act of self-denial and discipline.  She had always kept in touch during her previous adventures, but this new Adventure into Marriage had to begin with her new husband alone. In fact, our daughter messaged us first and we were soon chatting again, catching up with her adventures and hearing about the joys of settling into married life on a tropical island. She began skyping as regularly as before.

4.       Letting go of our expectations helped ease us into our new relationship. Where, before her marriage, we had chatted to her on her own – particularly as her fiancé did not live in the same city, anyway – now we talked to both of them together. The period of no contact had given us a break and we were glad to be in communication again. Indeed, talking to both of them was a richer experience, in some ways. They were so happy, relaxed after the busyness of the wedding and enjoying the adventure of life as a couple.

5.       Refocusing our lives was a wake-up call. We had ‘let go’ of our children when they left home, finding a different way of living Life Without Kids, but had then become accustomed to a close relationship with our adult daughter.  We realised anew that we had entered a time of life – particularly as we faced retirement – when WE needed to become more independent.

6.       Being thankful healed our spirits as we reflected on God’s goodness.

Of course, we still look forward to the next time we will see the happy couple.   Now, beginning our own adventures and without living overmuch in future expectations, we are excited to see what God has for us.

No comments:

Post a Comment