This First Person article is the experience of Miriam Edelson who is a writer and mother living in Toronto. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
“What do you mean you’re going to school on the West Coast?” I say. “How can you possibly leave me?”
“I’m not leaving you. I got into a great program,” says Emma. “Why can’t you just be happy for me?”
This is the conversation with my daughter that I’ll never have.
I do have it in my head though. There’s a monologue racing through my mind, in two very different voices. One is quite hysterical.
“I gave birth to you. I raised you. And now you’re moving thousands of miles away?! What about my grandchildren?”
Over the top for sure. They’re not even conceived yet.
The other voice is of the mother I am trying to be.
“That’s great, honey. What a terrific career move! I’m really proud of you.”
In reality, that calmer voice is the one I share with her and with my friends and family when we talk about her approaching moving date. The supportive feeling is authentic, but reflects only part of my story.
Inside, I crumble. How will I manage without my one remaining child nearby?
It’s not fair for me to burden her with the deep sense of loss I am experiencing as she prepares to leave, possibly never again to live in this city. I find ways to work through my feelings with close friends, my life partner, and a therapist. To make sense of the sadness I feel, and not let it drive my reactions to her in “real life.”
It took me awhile to realize I was conflating her leaving with the permanence of my son’s death. Emma’s older brother was born with a rare, severe neurological disorder. His life, which so enriched my own, lasted only 14 years. One loss can trigger feelings of another and, for me, my daughter leaving became entangled with missing him. It can be confusing to marshal your best self while grappling with multiple losses.
My time with Emma now feels precious. I enjoy our evenings together after she finishes her busy work day. We lounge on the ample beige sofa in her apartment she shares with her boyfriend, Tyler, while we wait for pizza to arrive.
“I’m really going to miss you,” she says, waving a strand of golden brown hair from her face, her dark blue-green eyes shimmering.
Apart from the whirring of the refrigerator, it is quiet for a moment.
“You were really good parents,” she says. “I hope Tyler and I can be nearly as good as you and Dad have been.”
“You will be,” I say, taking in the delicious news that she thinks we did a good job. This is even more poignant to me because her father and I split up when she was young and I devoted a great deal of energy to ensuring we co-parented closely and well. It’s also wonderful to hear about Emma and Tyler’s growing readiness to start a family.
I thought when her father and I separated that I was shattering my little girl’s world. She was four years old and it was rough for a while. She told her daycare buddies, “I’m getting separated,” which would have been cute if not so heartbreaking.
Somehow, through all the twists and turns, we muddled through — just as I will muddle through this sadness and begin to embrace, ever so tentatively, the opportunity to visit her in Vancouver.
I’m already looking to reserve a cheap flight, months in advance of our first visit. Now I’ll be the parent who arrives from away and receives all the attention. I recognize, too, that in her own way, she is saying goodbye to me. Taking stock and giving appreciation. We both are. I hope the diaphanous thread that attaches us still can stretch over thousands of miles. We both seem to want that.
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