Our family is shrinking. It’s nothing new. This happens all the time: kids go away to college, get married, move away. The nest shrinks, there’s less to care for, less mouths to fill, less to drive around to where they need to go.
In a word, it’s called “life”. Life happens, and the growing up and leaving is a healthy part of it. So why does it hurt this way?
We’ve said goodbye to three. We still have one.
And even that one feels the sting of this part of life. She’s ten now, and although older than when the first big brother left, still demonstrates her sense of loss.
Three years ago, at seven, her oldest brother left to college. She missed him terribly. She cried herself to sleep each night for almost six months. After that, it was less frequent, but her tears still pulled our heart strings to additional depths. Yet at the same time, she was so proud of him, telling everyone she had a brother in college and using it as a trump card.
Last year, big brother number two left. She missed him also, cried occasionally at night for him. Interestingly, she would miss him most when she got into trouble, calling out his name between tears brought on by disciplines imposed. (This brother had been more of the nurturer toward her). Although phone calls are few and far between (too expensive to or from another country when there isn’t high speed internet available), occasionally there was opportunity to Skype, and that seemed to help.
Two months ago big brother number three graduated. Now he’s gone. She hasn’t yet cried over this loss, but then again we’ve been quite busy. Still, we have noticed certain attention getting behaviors that are more intense than before.
These began the day we flew out of Ohio – and away from her big brothers – and arrived in San Antonio where we picked up a new missionary associate, Janene.
Bless her heart, Janene took the brunt of Katie’s big brother loss. Katie latched on to her immediately, trying to make Janene into an instant 10 yr. old friend. Except Janene is a grown woman! Even so, with patience and kindness (and dramamine!) Janene managed well being stuck in the back seat of the car with a ten year old during the four day drive back to Oaxaca.
Then last week we had a US team arrive for short term ministry. Behold there were teenage girls on board! Katie found new ‘friends’ to latch onto. She had a blast, her sense of brotherly loss put on hold as she looked forward to spending as much time as possible with our wonderful new visitors.
However, the teenagers too had a tolerance limit to Katie’s incessant talking, actions, and high energy in general. But they too displayed incredible grace and kindness. This is love in action – patient, kind, bearing all things – towards a girl whose behavior reflects losses that are masked. (To add to this mix was the loss of our female dog who recently had puppies. We came home from our trip to find she had been poisoned. Then, a week later, all puppies went missing. To this day we have no clue, and neither do our neighbors, as to what happened.)
As our summer and our life continue, we have little idea how this one child left at home will do. We know she’s strong, resilient, and covered by God’s grace. But she’s human, has a tender heart, and loves her brothers more than gold.
This is our challenge now, my husband’s and mine, to help her grow and deal through these losses and changes.
That is, as we deal with them ourselves living in a nest that used to have four. And now there is one.