I said goodbye to my oldest daughter, Cora. I dropped her off in New York City, and once again felt the bittersweet emotions of goodbye.
Who knew that motherhood would be so full of goodbyes?
The first big goodbye came at age 18 as I dropped Cora off at college for the first time. She was moving from Minnesota to Utah to attend Brigham Young University. Minnesota to Utah felt far and scary, but I set her up in her dorm, met her roommate, and proceeded to bawl my eyes out as I said goodbye and walked away.
Saying goodbye was surprisingly hard. I never was much of a sentimental mom. I wasn’t the mom crying on the first day of kindergarten. In fact, I was quite the opposite. Always anxiously anticipating the next stage of life. Excited to have a little bit of free time and think a few more of my own thoughts.
So when I dropped her off at college, I had no idea how much my heart would hurt. I wasn’t only her mother, but she had become a friend. I had gotten used to having her there to talk to, go shopping with, and bounce ideas off and I wasn’t sure how our relationship would change. Perhaps, she would never live at home again and it felt like my family was shrinking.
A year later Cora decided to serve a mission. She came home for a few months to get ready then I found myself saying goodbye again. This time it felt harder. She was traveling all the way to Singapore. On the other side of the world where she didn’t speak the language and where I could only talk with her once a week. Her mission was hard. Much harder than any of us had anticipated. Talking on the phone with a piece of your heart halfway across the world, hearing the tears but not knowing how to help… that was difficult.
She was supposed to be gone for 18 months, but after 7, we received the news that she was coming home. The pandemic was beginning and all missionaries in her area were coming home right away. We were shocked to have her coming home, but it felt like such a gift to have our entire little family under one roof again.
Later that year, Cora decided to get married. She had been dating a boy since before her mission and marriage felt like the natural next step. In Dec. 2020 I found myself saying goodbye again. This time it was for real. She was getting married. I didn’t think she would ever be coming home again. I thought this was the last time.
But, as life has a way of doing… things ended up being not what we had envisioned. It was quickly apparent that Cora wasn’t happy and slipped into a deep depression. She left her faith, stopped going to school, stopped reading, stopped playing music, and stopped being the person that I thought I knew. It felt like she was unraveling and I had no way of knowing why or what was going on. Even though we had always been close, we didn’t talk much during this time and it felt like another forced goodbye. One I wasn’t expecting and one that I didn’t know when it would end.
At Thanksgiving, she came home and told us that she was gay and wanted to get a divorce. It honestly was the hugest relief! To finally have an answer to all the confusion and unraveling was like a giant weight being lifted off. Of course, there was no question that she would always be loved and welcomed in our home no matter what, but I had to give myself time to say goodbye again. Say goodbye to the version of Cora that I had in my head and embrace every part of my new Cora. Together we worked through it. She came home. We reset. She found herself again. We processed and we both began to heal.
Slowly parts of Cora started coming back. She started enjoying books again, playing her music, and spending more time with the family. She worked, she rested and she began to dream about a fresh start. The day she got into NYU was the win we had been waiting for. After many upsets and setbacks, NYU was full of possibilities.
Four days ago, Cora and I flew to New York and began the process of creating a home for her once again. We got her moved into her apartment, discovered some fabulous shops, ate lots of yummy food, and made 5 trips to Target.
As we were eating breakfast one morning Cora thanked me for making our home a safe space. A place that she could come back to, a place to rediscover herself, and a place to reset. A place where she felt SAFE. It was the best compliment I had ever received. I’ve made many mistakes as a mother but to know my children feel safe and know they are loved unconditionally makes me think that we must have done something right.
Then today, I said goodbye again and left her in that big old city. It never really gets easier. Saying goodbye tears at the heartstrings of a mother’s heart in a way that’s hard to explain.
I am discovering that motherhood is a series of goodbyes. We say goodbye, we grieve the loss, we love, we hope, we celebrate the wins and cry bitterly at the lows, but we continue to love, and continue to create safe spaces to come back to whenever they need it. It hurts so bad because it means that you have created a connection that is hard to leave. You have created a safe space.
So I will take the heartbreak, I will take the goodbyes time and time again because it means I love you. It means that I love you enough to let you go, watch you grow, and make your own mistakes. And as a mama, I will always be here. I’ll be here to learn from you, to offer advice when asked, to watch you fall, to watch you succeed, and most importantly to hold a safe space whenever you need it.
I guess I’ll stop worrying if this was the last goodbye. Motherhood is truly a series of the most tender goodbyes and that’s exactly as it should be.
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