9 years ago I was getting ready to say farewell to my son Spencer as he headed to San Diego for college at Point Loma Nazarene University. Here are the thoughts I had at the time:
Empty Mitt Syndrome
Most of you have heard of “empty nest syndrome”. It’s that feeling of gloom that hangs over a home after the youngest child leaves. Most often associated with moms, I know dads experience these feelings too.
This week my son leaves for college in California. Since I always try to be prepared in advance for big events, I started missing him about two months ago. I decided to get all my tears and sad feelings out of the way early. But it didn’t work very well. I found myself continuing to wrestle with mixed emotions: excitement for his great adventure; sadness as I lose one of my very closest friends.
I have called this feeling “empty mitt syndrome” caused by the fact that my baseball mitt will be empty and virtually unused now that Spence is gone. Our pool table will be nearly silent and the supper table will be set for only two. I’ll be able to find all my shirts and ties in my own closet. Personally, I don’t like empty mitt syndrome.
In order to cope with my son’s departure I self prescribed some therapy. Instead of flying to San Diego I decided Spencer and I would drive the 1300 miles. That way, we get to spend two and a half days together reminiscing, hiking, playing loud music and getting lost by following bad maps. Knowing I have those last two days with Spence gives me some small solace.
I also realized part of my sadness was because I felt I hadn’t fully completed the fathering task. I had crammed a lot of “words of wisdom” into his nineteen years but there seemed to be much I missed. So over a month ago I began writing letters to Spencer several times a week. I collected them in a journal and will give them all to him the day we depart for California. They contain advice I may have forgotten to give along the way. I don’t know if my son will get much out of those letters, but writing them has helped me. At least a little.
The movie “Shadowlands” tells the story of author C. S. Lewis’ romance with an American lady named Joy Gresham. After they fall deeply in love Joy discovers she has cancer and only a short time to live. Lewis’ exultant happiness is suddenly turned into profound pain. But Joy braces him about his sadness: “We can’t have the happiness of yesterday without the pain of today. That’s the deal.”
And that is the deal. When we love someone deeply and they leave us either temporarily (going to college) or for a longer time (through death) we feel the pain and sadness of love’s separation. But it is a pain worth experiencing. Perhaps you’ve been holding back, being cautious about loving your family for fear of getting hurt. Don’t be afraid to love deeply, even at the risk of pain. That kind of pain can be a positive sign of love shared.