Five weeks ago, my daughter left home to go to University. I had to check the calendar to see how long ago she left and was hugely surprised that it was only five weeks ago. It feels like a lifetime. I miss her so intensely that the pain of it still takes my breath away.
For weeks before she left, I was tearful and in a state of ‘countdown’. Three weeks until she goes, two, one, seven days, six…it was agony. For such a long time, it seemed as if the departure date was on a very distant horizon. Then, as these things tend to do, it swung into sharp focus and I couldn’t ignore it any more. I began to watch her – really watch her. Like some sad stalker. Drinking in the things that I knew I wouldn’t be able to see so easily for a long time. Often, she caught me doing it and teased me…”Making memories, Mum?” and we would both laugh but my heart was already breaking, bit by bit.
She seemed so much stronger than me, on the surface at least. I held myself together as best I could for her sake as much as mine. On one occasion, I had taken her to College to see a Tutor and while I waited outside in the car, I played with her iPod. She often teased me because I couldn’t work it but I got it going and played a song. “Patience” by TakeThat. It completely undid me and I still can’t listen to it now although it was one of our favourite songs. I pulled myself together and tried another. It was the same for “My Immortal” by Evanescence. I turned off the iPod and just howled, trying to let the piercing physical pain out while she wasn’t there. It felt like letting the steam out of a pressure cooker. I had to let some out or I felt I would burst. Agony. She came back to the car, saw my tearstained face and laughed. So did I. What else could we do?
It was a busy time, which helped. She was busy packing boxes and I was busy trying not to cry. At every opportunity, we went in my car to a tiny local harbor and sat with baguettes and good coffee from our favorite shop. Talking, listening to music, chatting about celebs, TV, Facebook, relationships, weight, trying to give up smoking…making memories. How I miss that.
And then suddenly there it was. She was going tomorrow. Now the countdown began in earnest. Twenty four hours, twenty three…I couldn’t sleep that night and couldn’t hold back the tears. I wanted her to go. I’m so proud that she has gone and hopefully will start her course soon. I want her to have her own place with her boyfriend. They had lived in one tiny room in our home for eighteen months and it was time. But I was taken by surprise by how much it hurt and still does.
I was never one of those women who dreaded the thought of their kids leaving home. I always had a list of things I wanted to do, space I wanted to reclaim. My husband tried to cheer me up by telling me how great it would be when I could finally lay my hand on my hairbrush, my make up, my tweezers. How tidy the Lounge would be, how the washing machine would be free much more often, how there would be enough hot water left for a shower…all those things are true but I can take no pleasure in them yet. I would so much rather she was here.
I remember back to when I worked on a woman’s magazine in London. I was the Personal Assistant to the Beauty Editor. She was poised, attractive, beautifully made up, perfectly groomed, highly intelligent, a good friend and hysterically funny. One day, I found her in the Ladies Rest Room. I thought she was having a heart attack. She was pale, sweaty and shaking and obviously trying not to cry. Her son, her only child, had left home that morning for University and she was a mess. I was shocked to see her like that. I am that mess now.
To complicate matters, my husband (my daughter’s Stepfather) lost a child from a previous marriage. His son was eleven when he was knocked over by a car. He was on life support for a week while they found recipients for his organs. It gave some pitiful sense to the dreadful tragedy. I can’t imagine what he went through and my own ‘little drama’ seems so pathetic by comparison. I can pick up the phone to my daughter, I can Skype with her. I can see her on her webcam and if I ever get mine working, she will see me too. My husband doesn’t have that luxury and so I keep as quiet as I can. But sometimes it’s too much. I have lost both my Father and Mother and so I know that this feels like bereavement, even though it’s not.
The day she left, we were all falsely bright. All horribly aware that the moment of parting was getting closer. We had joked that when it came down to it, we would probably just hug and say “See you!” and that’s almost what happened. We hugged in a jokey fashion and I should have left it at that but I couldn’t. I craved one last, proper hug. And of course, I started to unravel. I told her to go then. Just go. She could see by my twisted face that I couldn’t do it anymore and turned to go – but exchanged a joke with her Step Dad on the way out to the Ferry. I don’t remember getting back to the car but I do remember hearing a very strange noise and then with a shock, realising it was me. Howling. Like an animal in pain. The noise jolted me back and I pulled it together once more so that I could endure waving the Ferry off. It wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined, mainly because I was so exhausted and felt as if I was in an altered state. Just like bereavement.
The next day was the worst. I woke up and then remembered that she was gone. Even when I managed to stop crying, my eyes carried on – all on their own. Bizarre. My husband wasn’t well but selfishly, I felt horribly panicky and just had to get out of the house. It was so quiet. Too quiet, painfully quiet. I really couldn’t stand it. I drove to our tiny local harbour and sat and cried. For hours. Non stop. It helped but it hurt, so very much. Then I went home, mindful of my husband’s loss and my need to just get on with it.
Since then, I have reclaimed her bedroom as the Craft Room that I always dreamed of having. Doing that was intensely painful. I can’t love it yet since I’d so much rather she was in it. I’ve stumbled through the weeks. Some days, it’s all I can do not to fall apart. Anything else is a bonus. I know I will see her again but it won’t be for a long time as we live so far apart now and finances are tight for all of us.
Time heals. I know that. The trouble is, I also have a son who is about to leave. So I have to go through it all again. A friend who has two girls told me it gets easier the second time, but hers left years apart. Who knows? I can’t and won’t even try to imagine how it will be. I will just have to live though it and come out of the other side, like women all over the world do every time a child leaves home.