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Letting Go

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I let go first. She held on tight.  I walked confidently into the Savannah airport as the breeze blew through the new scarf she bought for me. My aunt got back in the car with tears in her eyes. I would miss her, but this time, she would miss me more. Perhaps I let go so easily because I had a young family waiting at home, the pile of interesting projects sitting on my desk, or simply because of the passage of time.  

I understood her sadness because I used to be the one who held on tight. When my mother's sister moved 800 miles south of Philadelphia just six months after my mother died way too young, I did not want to let go. I said my goodbyes to her on a Sunday night and then found myself at her doorstep bright and early that Monday morning craving one more hug before she drove away. I was tempted to jump in her car's backseat, longing to hold on to a piece of her, a piece of my mother, a piece of the way things used to be. 

Looking back, I see that my whole life can be measured in a series of who let go firstLetting Go.jpg stories. My parents always seemed to let go first when I was growing up: when they left me with a babysitter to go away on a parents only vacation; when I went to sleep away camp in Maine; and when they said their goodbyes to me at college after my mother made my bed and my father set up my computer. They had the confidence to let me go. Their smiles were reassuring, telling me that my tears would stop and that I would find my way.  They were sure that I had the tools to do this - after all they were the ones who gave them to me. 

Now that I am a parent, I understand why they let go first. In fact, I admire them for it. The child in me wished they held on tighter. I secretly hoped that my mother would cry at the airport like that other mother did before her daughter walked out to the tarmac with her tennis racket sticking out of her backpack on her way to camp. That mother must have loved her daughter more. My mother practically pushed me on to the plane her face glowing as she told me what a great summer I would have. I get it now. She loved me enough to put that smile on her face - to give me the confidence that I needed as the tallest and freckliest of girls in the Philadelphia airport that day.  

It wasn't long before I started to let go first. I couldn't wait to finish dinner with my parents that night shortly after graduating from college and living in New York City. I wanted to get back to my apartment - the one that I shared with three of my very own roommates.  I was the one who wiped away my father's tears when I walked down the aisle to greet my soon-to-be husband on the night we were married. My father whispered into my ear, "You are going to have a great life," and my mother winked. I was letting go first, and they knew that they had taught me how.

I see a new pattern emerging with my young children. I still have nightmares about the screams they let out as toddlers when our babysitter had to tear them out of my arms so I could go to work or out to dinner. They longed for one last snuggle. 

Now, it is sometimes me who craves the forgotten hug from my son as he runs outside to meet the school bus. Last week, my four-year-old daughter closed the door on me so that she could walk to her nursery school classroom by herself. I smiled and realized that I was a good mother - just like mine. It would have been easier to cry like that mother at the airport did some 25 years ago, but I knew better. 

The last time that my mother said goodbye, she let go first. Overcome with the tumors in her liver, she slipped into a hepatic coma. I held her hand after she died, not wanting to let go but knowing that I had to. Although she let go first, I know that she didn't want to. Sometimes we don't have a choice.  

The anger that I once felt about her letting go is gone. It disappeared along with the pain that I endured after her sister said her goodbyes and moved away. I understand why they both left: one because of a cancer and one because she needed to start a new life free from too many memories.  

As one who has let go and one who has been let go of, I understand the constant change that requires me to play both roles at different times.

I remind myself not to be angry with those that let go first. Someone always has to. It is the natural order of things. I am happy that I have had so many people to hold on to in the first place.

 

Rachel Levy Lesser is a writer who lives in Newtown, Bucks County. She is the author of the book 'Shopping for Love.' 

 

 

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