“We’ll take him there. We’ll get him settled and he’ll have a good time.” I wake up in the middle of the night repeating what has become my new mantra. Merrick is off to a pre-college program for 6 weeks and I’m trying to figure out how I will allow my son to leave home for most of the summer without going mad. Jordan is gone, and can’t come back home. Everyday I live with the loss of my son. I’m stuck in a paradox of knowing that a lifetime ago, Jordan went away to college and didn’t come home. On this new journey the scars of loss cloud my judgment about what are the right experiences for my children to have. Merrick wants to go away and I don’t know if I can give the world another one of my children. I can’t lose another son and yet I know I have to let him go. I’m helping him prepare to go.
I’m filling out health forms, signing residence hall forms and buying supplies. I’ve done all of these things before. I helped Jordan prepare for college and for a summer program when he was in high school. Merrick in his excitement about his own pre-college program when he saw hesitation on my face countered with, “But Jordan went away when he was in high school.” I watch Merrick’s face, seeing the excitement and anticipation. I remember back to Jordan’s summer away and how much it enriched him. I take in all of this information and know that it is Merrick’s turn to get the trial run at the college experience.
Merrick’s words are ringing in my ears as I try to ready myself to have him gone for 6 weeks this summer. He is so excited and rightfully so. It’s his turn to experience life as an almost college student. Jordan will forever be his role model and he looks forward to following in his footsteps by having his own adventure. I can’t tell him not to go without exposing the selfishness behind the act. “Stay home so I don’t worry every time the phone rings.”
“Stay home so I can hug you when I say goodnight to you.”
“Stay home because I can’t lose anymore children.”
“Stay home so I can feel like you’re safe.”
I could keep him home, find a program in Chicago that would suit his needs. But I know that if I start changing the trajectory of my children’s dreams I’m limiting their lives. I don’t want them to live afraid or to refuse opportunities for fear of worrying me. I have to adapt to my new reality. A reality that has an oldest child killed in a car accident and three younger children with full lives ahead of them learning how to be excited about life. I watch myself as I talk to Merrick about his time away. I encourage him to take advantage of the weekend getaways. I tell him, “You’re in a part of the country you’ve never been to before. Make sure you explore and see new things.” I caution him against spending too much time alone in his room. “Interact with your peers. Spending too much time alone will lead to feeling depressed. Take advantage of this opportunity.” I say all of these things to my son all the while wondering if I’m doing the right thing. A part of me wants to watch over him every moment. To tell him to come home at the first signs of homesickness, but I don’t. I tell him I’m excited for him, that he’ll need adjustment time but his experience will be good. I cheer him on even though my mind is screaming at me to make him stay home as though I can ward off danger if I keep him close.
In spite of my fears and because of faith we drive Merrick to his summer program. Mark, the girls and I help him get settled into his room and tour the campus with him. We meet his roommate and the Resident Assistants on his floor. We are in so many ways the typical family. As we prepare to leave to drive back to Chicago we all give Merrick one last hug and tell him we’ll call him when we’re home. Lindsay bursts into tears as soon as Merrick walks back to his dorm. I hold her close telling her I know she’ll miss him. I look back to see Merrick loping up the steps back into his dorm without a backward glance. His adventure begins.
My mind and heart continue to be in conflict. There are no quick fixes or instruction manuals on learning how to live, love and parent after losing a child. My mind nags me, making me question the wisdom of letting Merrick go away. It says “keep him home at all costs. Letting go is how you lost Jordan.” My heart even though it is bathed in sorrow still makes room for hope and pockets of joy. I won’t let my fears derail my children’s futures. I have to lead with my heart, summoning strength and courage to be the mother my children need. I’ll cheer them on and applaud all their accomplishments hoping for safe travels and always, always hoping that they come home.