Death and Change

The old saying is: There are only two things certain in life – death and taxes. I’m not so sure about the latter. It seems the tax situation is always under debate. But what does seem clear to me is that change is certain.

This season, we sent two of our girls away to college and boarding school. We reduced from a household of seven to a household of five. That’s big. A few weeks ago, John and I shared the upstairs with the bedrooms of three girls. After Emily and Skye left, Journey moved herself from her bedroom on the opposite corner of the floor to Emily’s bedroom, next to ours. She felt lonely after being surrounded by the activities and sounds of two sisters. Emily will return on breaks from college and kick Journey out. But, for now, I think it comforts us all to have her “living” next door.

People have asked me about the daughters who are living away from home and about how it feels in our home now. Initially, I was preoccupied with grieving over the girls who left. I recalled again the letter from my dad that was waiting for me when I arrived at college many years ago. He paraphrased from the Bible about Abraham and Jacob, about going out into the wilderness – into the unknown, about BOTH of us changing. At the time, I didn’t think much about the effect of my departure on him. I was scared and focused on my own adjustment. But now I stand in the shoes of the parent.

I trust that my older daughters will do what they need to do. As my good friend Martha reflected: “How marvelous to have the counterpoint of Emily’s natural wing-spreading to Skye’s journey inward…” We’ve done what we can as parents to help these young women find places where they can grow, learn, and flourish in the ways that honor who they are and what they need at this point in their lives. We are cautiously optimistic; and we will continue to monitor and tweak as necessary. But, for now, we rely heavily on certain others to provide Emily and Skye guidance along their individual paths.

Once the initial pain of “losing” two of our flock subsided, I began to pay more attention to the three remaining chicks. Thus far, K.J. has seemed to rise to the position of oldest in a mature way. Oh, sure, he is still K.J. He will need to be reminded of countless chores and urged to stretch his wings in new directions. But, without the two girls who consumed all the leadership roles amongst our brood, he seems freer. I find myself having more adult-type conversations with him. And, surprisingly, he is asking for more responsibility rather than running from it.

Becton is a bit discombobulated. He had been prone, over the past few months, to mimic the less stellar behaviors of Skye and Journey – the demanding, the disrespect, the refusal to comply, the whining, etc. That role modeling has subsided. The discipline of karate has begun. And Becton is beginning, begrudgingly, to make adjustments. After all, it is more fun NOT to do chores, not to follow the rules, and not to complete homework. But in the void created by his sisters’ departures, there is space to recommit to doing what is expected and in his best interests.

Perhaps the most interesting change is in the relationship that is beginning to form between Journey and me. Emily was/is a born leader. She commanded authority. She was punctual and impatient when the others fell behind. Skye filled up the room with her presence. Our attention was often drawn to her because she gave us no choice. Without these girls, there is a quiet now filled by Journey’s way of being. As I have mentioned before, Journey moves at a slower pace. We call it “Journey Time.” The year John and I took Journey, alone, to Disney World, I was astounded at how few rides and shows we took in. As we marched toward the next big event, I might look behind and see Journey examining a flower and singing softly to herself. Gradually, John and I slowed down too. Journey showed us a different way to encounter the world around us.

With the noise of Emily and Skye removed, I find myself listening longer and more carefully to what Journey has to say. We may not agree on some things, but, operating at this slower pace, I realize that my patience is producing less whining from Journey. She feels heard. As I focus on not becoming louder and on questioning how important it really is to do things in my “efficient way,” my emotional daughter gets her feelings hurt less.

Change is hard, but change can be good as well. It opens us in new ways. It alters our vision. For example, for years we were engaged in a weekly tug-of-war over church attendance. The nay saying was led by Skye, but it fostered resistance in K.J., Journey, and Becton as well. With the three left at home, John made a new proposal: Go to choir and youth group (or Sunday school for Becton) every week. Once a month, go to one of the three worship services offered. No protest. The peer group experiences have always been the priority and starting point from which a love of worship in the larger community can grow. Why didn’t we see this before?

Change can help us answer questions that were once perplexing. And sometimes it even helps us realize we were asking the wrong questions in the first place.

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