We arrive at the airport with plenty of time – a byproduct of my nervous energy when it comes to travel by air. I am paranoid and neurotic, and it drives my husband crazy. He humors me, and as a token of his affection, we are there earlier than he would like.
As we stand in the long line for AeroMexico, I have my boy check for the fifteenth time that he has his passport and wallet in his shoulder bag. He rolls his eyes, as he often does when it comes to my mothering, smiles, and assures me they are all there.
I look up at this tall young man and see no traces of the boy he used to be. Gone is the awkward teenage manner and youthful insecurity. Replaced, overnight it feels, by a mature, confident presence and shoulders that somehow seem more square. Taller. He positively glows and I try to drink his essence in. I study his features and will myself to memorize every line and curve of his face.
I am not ready for this day, and I futilely wish it away.
We make attempts at smalltalk, bantering in our casual, familial way. No one wants to address the large, explosive elephant sitting amongst us. So we make jokes and tease instead.
His luggage is checked in far too quickly and we begin a slow walk towards security. We are there before I know it, and I feel my heart leap into my throat. I choke back a sob as he turns towards me sheepishly, tears welling up in his blue eyes.
I throw my arms around him and sob uncontrollably. There is no bravery, no stoicism. There is only raw, public mourning as I hold him one last time. I’ve held this boy in my arms and heart for 18 wonderful years, and the impending separation is more than I can bear. My mama heart is shattered into a thousand pieces. I hold him and the tears stream freely down my cheeks. I tell him how proud I am of him, and how much I love him. I repeat it over and over, willing my affection to devour the pain I feel.
I reluctantly let go, then watch in turn as he says goodbye to his sister, brother and dad. My heartache is mirrored in their teary faces. It is awful. This public fracture of our family feels surreal and unfair. We cannot muster the dignity such an event deserves; we are a sobbing, pathetic mess. Strangers pass by, unsure of what to make of our tears. He gives us one last smile, then throws a bag over his shoulder and goes. He walks out of my life and into his own with such ease that I’m simultaneously proud and devastated.
I lean into my husband and sob hysterically. I feel lightheaded and dizzy, the pain so immense that it feels difficult to breathe. We watch him walk back and forth through the rows that lead toward the security checkpoint. We stand together crying, arms around each other, as he clears the passport check and loads his bag onto the conveyor belt. A kindly TSA agent notices the spectacle that is our goodbye and makes a show of putting his arms around my boy, giving me a thumbs-up, promising that he’ll be taken care of. This makes me laugh through my tears, and I feel a small trickle of hope enter my heart. Surely, there will be others. People who will watch out for him along the way. People who will throw their arms around him when I can’t.
He turns and gives us one last wave, his smile bright. Happy. Ready.
I blow him a kiss. I offer a prayer for his safety, his well-being, and his happiness. I ache down to my core. Two years apart seems insurmountable and unendurable.
We walk out to our car, empty. Tears still fall and we take turns sniffling. No one is joking or teasing now.
Though I knew this day was coming for a long time, I had no idea the toll it would take on my heart. It is so confusing and powerful — all of this at once. Pride, heartache, loneliness, happiness, awe, anger, humility, sorrow, joy. There isn’t room to feel them all, and the excess spills over in salty tears.
A few hours pass, and I track his flight until it’s on the ground in Mexico. It’s the last bit of active mothering I can do for a while, and I relish this small piece of control. I walk past his room and cry some more. I curl into a ball on the couch and cover myself with a blanket. My phone buzzes with the texts and calls of concerned friends and family. It’s painful to relive it when the wound feels so fresh and raw, but it makes me feel loved. We watch movies, nap, and time somehow passes.
We make an attempt at eating dinner together, though no one feels up to the task. We are a somber, depressed lot. No one has much of an appetite.
Suddenly, my phone pings and there is an email from our favorite missionary. It is short — oh, it is far too short — but it tells us that he’s okay, that he made it, and he’s happy.
A warm peace floods my heart and I offer a prayer of thanks for his safety.
And I sigh, rather impatiently, eager for the much longer letter I’m sure to get next week.
I resign myself to this new life now — a life of waiting, of empty, of emails, and P-Days. A life more quiet, yet full; lonely and abundant; teary, yet proud. Oh, so proud.
The bittersweet life of a missionary mama.