Last week I was talking with our daughter, Katie, about my desires for Mother’s Day. I made a remark about planning to ask our son, Tim, if he could be here for at least part of the day as it was ‘the last Mother’s Day.’ She looked at me incredulously, “The last Mother’s Day? He’s getting married, not dying! Being married doesn’t mean the end of being his mother.”
I sat with her words and felt the reality in my heart that I was apparently not conveying clearly with my words: yes, I will always be Tim’s mother, AND his marriage marks a significant ending.
I felt the difference in Tim’s return home this month, his final weeks leading up to the wedding after completing his year long internship in Chicago. While there is abundant evidence of his physical presence in our home, I also feel the difference in his emotional presence. His attention, energy and focus are not fully here, as they are rightly committed to Anna, his fiancée.
I know in my head the reality of the process of maturing and differentiating, and have been experiencing that reality with him for quite a few years. And yet, there is something that feels different this time around about this liminal space, as Richard Rohr calls it – liminal referring to a threshold, poised between what was known and familiar, and what is new and unknown.
Timothy is our first-born, his arrival profoundly changing the reality of our family, after 5 years with just Chris and I. I remember well the liminal space preceding his birth, filled with both eager anticipation and anxiety. I remember the flood of joy I felt as I held him for the first time, experiencing a totally different kind of love than I had up to that point. I also remember how often in those first months I carried him against me, rocking him with the movement of my body as I went about my work. He was colicky, and most of the time nothing except being snuggled up with his head right next to my heart, would soothe his cries. This is a perfect picture to me of how necessary we are as mothers to our child’s well-being. Mothers are uniquely designed and called to read their childs needs and respond with nurture, comfort, care, protection, and most of all, love.
Now, standing at another threshold, I am once again having to pay attention to what my mother’s heart is telling me – that change is coming and with it pain. I was trying to put words to this reality as I talked with a friend last week, but moved quickly past the pain to the fact that it was also good, and right, and everything we had prepared for as parents. Her eyes held mine with kindness and knowing, as she reminded me of the importance of honoring the full truth of the end, the marriage ceremony marking the finality of my place in Tim’s life like nothing else. Honoring that ending means acknowledging and feeling the accompanying grief…I have learned that endings are hard for me.
I began to recognize how unkind it is to my own heart to rush past the grief, to diminish it with words about how happy I am for Tim, and how grateful I am for Anna – who has felt like a daughter for a long time already. All of those things are true, and being more aware of the grief I feel as we get closer to the end does not have to diminish that truth.
I am realizing that engaging my grief and preparing my heart for an ending is vital if I want to bless our son as he leaves us.
Dan Allender says in “The Intimate Mystery” that “leaving one’s parents establishes the primacy of the marriage over all other relationships. Marriage is meant to be a statement: I forsake all others for the sake of you.” I will no longer hold the primary loyalty in my son’s heart. While that truth has been gradually building over the past 5+ years as Tim and Anna’s relationship developed, it will become true in a whole different way as he joins his bride in a new covenant on their wedding day.
Chris and I will each bless Tim on his wedding day, blessings that will reflect the different roles we have each played in his life up until now – and we will look forward once again, with eager anticipation, to what the next chapter holds.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.