He’s gone…my firstborn child graduated from college last month. Then we packed up his belongings and settled him into an apartment 500 miles from home.
The last several weeks have been a frenzy of activity, including his 21st birthday. I had glimpses of the emotion that I knew would come. But none was as surprising as the wave that hit me when my son returned a letter to me I had written him when he left for college almost four years ago.
We were cleaning out his room, sorting what to take with him, what to keep at home, and what to get rid of. He isn’t the sentimental type and asked me if I wanted to keep the letter. Naturally I agreed. While his focus and attention remained on sorting his belongings, I snuck away to read the letter…and the tears came.
I was surprised by the things I told him. I recalled the timing of the letter and what was going on in our lives. The events that led to my writing “Walking My Mother Home” in Journeys to Mother Love were just starting to develop: Pedro had returned to Spain after his first summer with our family; my communication had started with his mother Rosa; we had found out that Carmen, Rosa’s mother, only had a few months to live; and my mother was on hospice care back in Illinois.
Yet there in the midst of the pain of my aching mother wound I took the time to write a beautiful letter to my son. It seems my heart was already changing. The Lord was directing me to make a connection to my son in one of the few ways I felt comfortable—by writing him a letter.
I wish I’d done that again now. Maybe I still will. Or maybe this is the start of a season of occasional Skype calls and Facebook chats.
In any case, I’m sharing excerpts of that original letter here. Much of it still applies to my son’s post-college launch as it did to his move into the dorm. My hope is that it inspires you or gives you ideas on how to also write or connect with your son or daughter who has left the nest.
I don’t suppose that this note will tell you anything that I haven’t already conveyed to you in some way. As you know, I am a person of many words. This is my way of giving you a keepsake as you ‘leave the nest’ today. Please keep this note and re-read it when you are feeling low, frustrated or confused while away at college…
…Your success in life is not based on what college you attend or the grades that you achieve. It is based on your ability to integrate life’s disappointments and failures into your character and grow from them…
…Living on campus will present new challenges and exciting times for you—making your own decisions, meeting new people and learning to live with two roommates. Sometimes it may seem like there are too many choices or not enough time. You will need to sift through those choices. If something doesn’t work out well or is not what you expected, it isn’t the end of the world. You can still pick yourself up and move on with your head held high. You can choose to forgive others and you can offer forgiveness to others too. And remember, it’s not about being right. Sometimes it’s about the greater good or the bigger picture. It is hard to humble ourselves. It is even harder to admit we were wrong. Sometimes those simple words, “I’m sorry” can mean so much…
…The main thing I want to convey to you is that we trust you and that we are here for you. We want you to explore your independence and to make your own decisions realizing that there will be some stumbling. We hope that you will come to us for advice, to vent your frustrations and to rejoice in your successes. We want to be here for you in whatever way we can as you transition to life on your own.
We love you regardless of the circumstances. More than that, God loves you. I hope and pray that you will use His Word and His Spirit inside you to guide you in your difficult decisions and your daily walk.
Reading that again even now, I have the overwhelming sense that these words were not just meant for him (or our children), but they were meant for me (and other adults) who didn’t have that kind of encouragement poured into them.
I know that today as I embrace this new season of motherhood and close the door to my son’s empty room, I need just a bit of encouragement too. How about you?
~ Ardis A. Nelson