For a long time after he left we all ate quietly in the kitchen. And when I say ‘for a long time’ what I actually mean is a whole semester.
How can anyone fully ready themselves for when a loved one is no longer at the table?
For several disorienting months I didn’t set the dining table around which we’d gathered thousands of times before; meal after meal; night after night; laugh after laugh; prayer after prayer. My family grew concerned.
How can anyone fully ready themselves for when a loved one is no longer at the table? I didn’t know how to be, or want to be, a family of five. I liked being six! I desperately missed Luke trying to win me over with his absolute inextinguishable optimism.
For years our family had returned to the huge round table each evening like homing pigeons. We had precious little ability to grasp anything other than that sweet and settled routine, all perched in the familiar place we landed after sunset. I missed him inquiring after my day.
What would it look like – dear God – if one of us was gone? Could we still operate as normal? How might we prepare for the day a loved one would no longer be with us? If these questions ever entered our minds during those years around the round table it was more of a gratitude training exercise, certainly not a reality to dwell on.
And so when our son left home after eighteen years under our roof, our quotidian family rhythms became unmoored. Things seemed shallow and off-kilter and out-of-sorts. I couldn’t bear the silent space of the empty dining chair, so the remaining five of us jockeyed each night for elbow-room around a teeny butcher-block island that barely fit four.
We watched Shark Tank while we ate.
We adjusted to our new-normal of not-six.
One person had to stand every night as sacrifice.
I missed the way his eyes crinkled when he laughed.
In the spring of senior year; before starting college a thousand miles away on the east coast; I remember asking our oldest son how he hoped to spend his last few months at home. What was on his bucket list of last meals and final adventures? What did he imagine his remaining days in his town to look like? I think I would have given him half the kingdom if he’d asked for it.
“I want it to be like it has always has been” he said. “I want us all to do exactly as we have always done.”
Dear ones. If you are a parent who has a loved one departing the family nest soon, take heart and hold the reins steady until that hour. Even though it’s impossible to fully ready yourself for the next season, this is not the time for advanced mourning! Be encouraged that in the few weeks that remain before a college launch, your loved ones would like you to be and do exactly as you’ve always done.
Our God-given days with our God-given people are holy and precious gifts, not for wasting on worry (“life’s so short!” “it goes too fast!”) but for receiving and savoring each day that is and has been.
Dear parents of graduates: Keep your courage, your humor, your smile, and your stride. Hold steady as you go! Breathe in and out the sights, sounds, and mundane mysteries of your exact life today. For tomorrow – and all that is in it – is in the very dependable and faithful hands of God.
Peace to you and whoever is at your table today.