No Longer Six

For a long time after he left, we all ate quietly in the kitchen. And when I say ‘a long time’ what I 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 – I didn’t want to be – a family of just five. I liked the way things were. I liked being six.

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, each one perched in the familiar place he or she came to roost after sunset.

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 entered our minds during those years around the table, they certainly weren’t a welcome reality on which to dwell.

And so after eighteen years under our roof, when our son went a thousand miles away to college, our (my) quotidian family rhythms became unmoored. Things seemed off-kilter and out-of-sorts. I couldn’t bear the silent space of the empty dining chair.

I missed him inquiring after my day.

Instead of gracing the dining table, the five left behind jockeyed each night for elbow-room around a teeny kitchen island that barely fit four.

I missed his inexhaustible optimism.

We watched nine seasons of Shark Tank as we ate. We adjusted to our awkward new-normal of not-six. One person had to stand every night as tribute.

I missed the way his eyes crinkled when he laughed.

In the spring of his senior year, 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 as it’s always been,” he said. “I want us all to do exactly as we’ve always done.”

Dear parents: If you have a loved one departing the family nest soon, take heart and hold the reins steady until that hour.

Yes, it’s impossible to fully ready yourself for what’s to come, but know that in the few days that remain before launch, your loved one would like you to be and do exactly as you’ve always done.

Our God-ordained days with our God-given people are holy and precious gifts, not to waste on angsty worry (“Life’s so short!” “It goes too fast!”), but to receive and attend to each new day that has been given.

So keep your courage. Keep your humor; your smile; your natural stride. Breathe in and out the sights, sounds, and mundane mysteries of your life today, trusting that there will be new mercies waiting for you in the morning.

And hold steady as you go. For tomorrow – and all that is in it – is in the very dependable, faithful, and tender hands of God.

Peace to you and whoever is at your table today.


5 responses to No Longer Six

  1. Woodrow says:

    Needed this today. My oldest leaving in the fall but not before he leaves to back pack solo for a month. Happening too quickly. Can’t catch my breath.

  2. Colleen Lombard says:

    Every new chapter brings a new beginning to the family. This is beautifully written and so true. Thank you.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Kim, I always appreciate your perspective and timely reminders. Our second of 3 sons left for college 700 miles away last Fall. We have two years left with son number 3. The nest is never the same. Dinner time, holidays, vacations have all lost much of the appeal as someone, or two someones, is/are almost always not there. Still trying to find our new normal with each departure. Thank you for the reminder that we have done well by simply creating a home that can hold them steady as they go even as we try to hold steady as they leave …

  4. Anonymous says:

    Said so well, but so good to see him for less than 24 hours. Round #2, countdown on…

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