How does a mother let go?

June 6, 2010 at 6:09 am in Family & Relationships by Sarah G. Carter

I’m sad today. It happens.

I know it’s the cheerful, funny, light hearted posts that people want to read. You can hardly blame them. I don’t. As Ella Wheeler said, “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone. For the sad old earth must borrow it’s mirth, it has troubles enough of its own.”

Yet I know for a fact that it’s not just me that sometimes feels this way. You can’t have lived for fifty plus, plus years, here in the land of the living, without accumulating a long list of losses, both large and small. It takes its toll. Sadness happens as does sunshine. And any given heart can be heavy or light depending on which way the wind blows. No apologies. We’re all human here.


It has been ten years today since Finley died. Finley, my twenty year old son. Finley, my blue eyed, bright eyed, devil may care, laughing, shrugging, adventuring, growing up in spite of himself, son.

I woke up yesterday, as I do every year at this time, wondering if this was the day. I’m sure that sounds odd. Shouldn’t I know? I wonder what’s the matter with me that I can’t seem to nail it down in my mind. I blame it on the fact that those singular days between the accident and the end were eternal, fleeting, and wholly outside of the sphere and structure of ordinary life. Time stopped and sped. Days and nights came and went with a peculiar jagged unpredictability. Faces, voices, details swam in and out of focus. I sat behind a curtain, beside a bed, as close as I could to the long, lean, broken body of my second son. I held his hand, talked to him aloud and silently, found a patch of exposed skin on his shoulder where I could lean in to find his scent. There I sat, watching, staring, stunned awake by the reality of this thing that no one believes can actually happen. Finley was gone, but he wasn’t. A coma is a peculiar kind of limbo. Sitting with your all but dead son in a hospital ward is too. I had no idea what day it was, or month, or year. Ten years later, I’m still having trouble with it.

How does a mother let go? How do we reconcile the reality of our children changing as they do from age to age, stage to stage, let alone in death? Moving targets. Constantly morphing creatures, put here in our care. A tall order. To care for them appropriately, we must morph ourselves. How else to accommodate the ever changing circumstances, personality, growing maturity, or lack of? A fine tuned call and response that requires a degree of accuracy beyond the grasp of most of us hit or miss mortals. Motherhood is a dicey undertaking at best. An eternal font of guilts and why-didn’t-I’s, if that’s what you’re looking for. But there’s so much more.

PhotobucketNo less flawed, or perfect than he was, we muddled along, Finley and I. We loved and laughed, and tugged and battled, through childhood and into adolecense. A single mother raising a teenaged son is not an easy path from either point of view. But I can still see the sunlight on the blond streaks of his hair, feel his hot skin under my fingers as I rub lotion on fair, peeling shoulders, remember the weight and heft of his small body held close to mine. Twined and melded, mother and child, eternal symbol of life given, nurtured, then released into it’s own. I just didn’t think it would happen this way.

Ten years later, I dig through my box of papers and documents to confirm the day. No guessing this year, I want to know. A birth certificate with tiny footprints. A death certificate with dates and stamps. Official on both ends.

My mother sent me an e-mail yesterday telling me she was sad. I knew she meant Finley, but what she talked about losing Cole, my youngest son. He’s been living with her for two years. Cole didn’t “launch” after college as expected. First, he came home to me. The few months I’d envisioned as allowing him to find his way, rolled on an on, with still no sign of a plan. After fifteen months, I forced him to leave. His good hearted step-father stepped in, sure that all he needed was a guiding male hand. Nine months later, he left there and moved in with my mother. It wasn’t easy for her, or for Cole either I imagine, but there they stuck. After six months, Cole finally made a move. He applied, and was accepted for a master’s program in engineering. Two weeks ago, he graduated, and has been hired as part of a team of engineers building submarines. He starts tomorrow.

Cole and Me in Styron Square

You choose the title: Timing is everything. Or, Miracles do happen. Both are equally true.

My mother wrote:

“Cole has been so sweet. Even though he has left a lot of stuff undone, I don’t care at this point. He comes and sits by me and neither of us says anything. He just seems to be saying “thank you” in his own inimitable way. Will has told me to not ask Cole questions cause it stresses him and he’s nervous. How to talk without questions ? So we sit. Thank God I’m working today – a little time gone. We’ll talk soon. I love you – Mama”

I wrote back:

“I’m sad today too. Finley. 10 years. And I know you’re sad about Cole leaving. I know he’s sad too. You’re right, he just can’t say it. He’s just like the damn cat. But, just like the cat, he IS saying it in his own way.

You have done much more for him than simply giving him food and a place to live for two years. You have loved him in a way he couldn’t miss. Maybe he never felt that from me. Maybe I couldn’t give it in the way he wanted, when he wanted it. I don’t know. It will likely haunt me to my grave, but there it is. And then there you were. A grandmother. A step removed from the authority and disappointment associated with both me and his father. And as a person, you have a gift of honesty and caring not matched by many. Don’t underestimate yourself, or my opinion of you. And if Cole didn’t see it before, he does now. You took in a wounded, baby bird and now he’s ready to fly. Even if he can’t say thank you, I can.

Thank you. Thank you for doing for my child something I couldn’t manage on my own. It takes a village. It takes a family. And sometimes it takes a grandmother. You changed the course of his life. I love you too. – Sarah”

So now this one goes off into the world. In his own way, in his own good time. We loved him in our flawed but earnest ways, and now will let him go.

All is well. And all manner of things shall be well.

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