Driving home from taking my daughter to college this week, I was overcome with emotion. I’m still overcome with emotion. It bubbles up anytime, like the kitchen sink when the disposal stops working and the sink fills with unidentifiable food and drink particles floating in disgusting soupy water.
Whenever my patients come to me with emotional distress, I encourage them to name what they’re feeling, try to understand why they’re feeling that way, and use a journal to give those feelings a way out of the round-and-round racetrack in their head.
So today I’m taking my own advice.
Some triggers are easy to identify. When I walk by her room and she’s not in it, it’s a gut punch. When the car she drove to high school no longer has the peace sign hanging from the rearview mirror, I wish it did.
When I went to get donuts this morning. I got the usual for the boys: 2 red iced, 2 white iced, one country sausage kolache. The order seemed incomplete without her blueberry glazed donut, so I ordered that, too, even though she wasn’t here to eat it. Weirdly, eating that donut myself also made me cry.
As I literally cried 8 of the 10 hours driving home, I even felt guilt that I was having so much grief. “I’ve never felt this sad” was followed with survivor’s guilt of “What a charmed life I’ve had that I have never felt this sad!”
The people I’ve lost to death have not died tragically young. My life has pretty much marched on without trauma. I don’t deserve to feel this sad over what is actually an exciting time in my daughter’s life, I thought. But I miss her daily presence so much.
I feel grateful for her tribe — family, friends, adults and kids — who have gotten her this far and will always be there for her. I feel grateful for my tribe as well, supporting me through this strange time. I feel nostalgia for that time in my own life. Oh, to be young and have your whole life ahead of you again. Her orientation week includes sunrise yoga and a pep rally and a scooter tour of campus. What an amazing time of life: a young, healthy body full of energy, and a mind, wide open for learning, in an environment that is dedicated to stretching her mind and broadening her perspective.
But I also feel indignant at the email that I no longer have access to her medical records, even though I knew that was coming. I feel worried that I didn’t do enough, teach her enough, but then hopeful that I did. I know we gave it our all as parents these first 18 years, and I hope she feels that. For me, the role of “parent” is my number one role, the most important job I have.
Being her mom and my boys’ mom is my raison d’etre, my reason to be, much more than my other roles: pediatrician, sister, daughter, friend, aunt, niece. But I don’t want “being my daughter” to be her raison d’etre. I want more for her than that — I want the most for her! I want her to find her path, choose her contribution to the world, make a difference like I know she will. I want her to find laughter and success and love and happiness.
I feel proud of the person she is and nervous for the transition. I want the rest of the world to see what I see: an amazing young woman ready to forge her path. I want her to believe in herself like we all believe in her. I feel worried that life might get hard for her, and I also don’t want it to be so easy there is no room for growth.
I am not ready to go back down memory lane with home videos or photos yet. It’s too soon and I don’t think I could breathe through the crying if I did. But once I can, it will give me so much joy to see the times we have had so far. I have to remember there is more joy coming, too, in this next phase of parenting. I just have to get through the transition.
Like many people, transitions give me angst. Decisions that change the status quo are not my friend. Why would I try a new restaurant when I know what I like at this one? Why would I try a new vacation spot when this one has always restored my soul?
I also can’t listen to certain songs yet. “Never Grow Up” by Taylor Swift is a hard pass. “Slipping Through My Fingers” by ABBA, which I can still hear my daughter singing in her room? Not yet. But one song keeps coming to my mind, reassuring me that others have felt this way, too, and naming one of the emotions I wouldn’t have recognized for myself, and that’s “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac:
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older, too.
Oh, I’m getting older, too.
Yep, there it is. I’m afraid of change. But the good thing about change is that it’s not always bad. It leads to new adventures, new memories, new success. And as my grief turns to resignation of the new way our family fits together, I will try to stay positive and excited for what is to come.