I said goodbye to my children this week. I would say my foster children, but O told me not to use foster to describe our relationship anymore. A wise one, that girl, at 5.
On Sunday they were reunited with their biological family. They’ve gone to live with their great-grandpa in route to moving back in with their mom between July and September. Sunday was one of the most difficult days of my life: singing the last morning song, packing up much-loved toys and stray socks, giving that last bath, feeling them slipping beyond my reach with each passing minute. Hours spent falling apart and wiping tears, refereeing fights over toys and blankets and refusals to put on coats.
And yet, for another family, this day was one of celebration. Children who had been separated, living for six months in a town two hours away with essential strangers with different color skin and from another culture, returned home. While I was busy making a photo book so they could remember their time with us, their family was longing to forget.
In one of the books I’m reading for my pastoral care class, the author asserts that life is a series of new beginnings. Well, then, it’s a series of endings too. And it’s a fine tension when you find yourself in the dark, tight space between a beginning and an ending. Even more so when the beginning and ending are one in the same, like so many are. Like this one.
I don’t have a history of grieving well. I come from a long line of leavers, a people whose tendency is to run away or isolate when life gets too hard. I struggle to feel my own feelings instead of pushing them down and running through life on autopilot, like a machine. The temptation here, with saying goodbye to my children, is and was to enter into the celebration without entering into the grief. To sweep my sadness under the rug of “doing God’s will” or “the greater good” and make my tears superfluous, worthless.
And yet, I realized that this, saying goodbye to my children, was too big, too important to become a victim of putting words in God’s mouth, my arrogant defense mechanisms, or my reluctance to feel. I owed it to my children to grieve their transition with integrity. I owed it to my daughter, who I’d been teaching the power of mourning since she entered our home that “change is hard,” “it’s normal to feel sad when you miss someone,” and “it’s okay to cry,” to see my tears, to hear the cracking in my voice, to feel my rapid heartbeat. . . to know that when you love much, you hurt much, too.
On Sunday we cried together, we cried alone. We hugged and said goodbye. I’ve cried every day since. I’ve also wailed, cussed, spent too much money, and rubbed the keepsake necklace with a mother and children my best friend purchased for me as if it were a genii’s bottle. I feel like doing crazy things – shaving my head, burning my clothes, breaking furniture, quitting my job, moving to an island, selling all my things.
My spiritual director says this is all part of grieving. Amy says I’ll get through this, and mostly I believe her.
But in the dark, tight space between this ending and beginning, I’m uncomfortable and clinging to the hope that if I serve a God of thin spaces*, maybe God is a God of tight spaces, too. Perhaps in this place between ending and beginning, where all I can do with integrity is wail and sob, God might crack the door a bit and let some light in, showing me God’s glory.
*In the Celtic tradition such places that give us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of that Presence are called “Thin Places.” There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. A contemporary poet Sharlande Sledge gives this description:
“Thin places,” the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy.
Angela is partner to Matt, foster mom to O and J, Truth-chaser, and education addict. She loves to play with words, workflow rules, herbs, and dirt. Angela lives in rural Illinois, where her family is part of an intentional Christian community. When she gets up the gumption, Angela blogs over at Leaping Greenly and hatch*.