Middle America - End of May, 1973: It was past midnight. I had just been to the last official event of my senior year in high school with all my chums. I was very late coming home. As I pulled in the driveway I saw the curtains move in my mother’s bedroom window. She’d been watching out the window for me to return. I was 18. I was a responsible young woman. I had never broken curfew before that night. I was always a good girl. When I walked in, I was assaulted with; “Where have you been? Why didn’t you call?” My mother had worried herself into a frenzy waiting for me to get home. She wore her worry as a badge of her love for me. No matter how I tried to explain my need to be with my friends just a little longer that night, she didn’t hear me. I know she loved me, but that night it didn’t much feel like it. After one of the sweetest nights of my life, I went to bed with a very sour feeling in my heart.
Middle America - End of May, 2003: It was 3:00 AM – yes, in the morning! My son wasn’t home yet. He hadn’t called. I was worried and I could feel my worry boiling over into anger. I was tired - but who can sleep when someone you love so much isn’t home in bed where he belongs, way past his curfew? He’s 18. He’s a responsible young man. He never breaks his curfew like this. What could possibly have happened to him? I will admit – I too was watching out the window, just like my mother so many years before. I was relieved when his car pulled in, and I could see that he was safe, at last. I heard him come upstairs. My light was on. He took a chance and knocked on my door and came into the room. Like my mother, I also asked two questions, but first I made a statement. I said, “I love you. I was scared something bad had happened to you. I'm so relieved to see you." Then I asked the questions, which were quite a bit different than my Mom's. First, “Are you ok?” and second, "Did you have as great a time as I did umpteen years ago on the same kind of night?" "I'm fine, Mom," he said, sitting down on the bed next to me. "But I realized tonight that I may never see my friends again like this - all together in one place. So we just spent time together. We didn't go anywhere. We didn't do anything special. We were just together. I'm going to miss them, Mom." He began to cry. And so did I. We cried and hugged and he knew I loved him and I knew he loved me. We too just spent time together - one last special time before he went off to college. And neither of us went to bed angry or hurt. In fact, I'm almost positive that he went to bed with all the warm and fuzzies still intact from his last night of high school with his pals. I know I went to bed with a smile on my face, counting the blessings created by the differences in my thinking and my actions, compared to those of my beloved mom, which allowed the happy endings this May.
Okay, okay so now I'm going to take off my mom hat and put on my Grief Recovery Specialist hat. The difference between the two stories is obvious. What is most telling is the similarity. If you haven't figured it out yet, it's really simple. The connecting thread is GRIEF. Yes, grief. Grief is not just about death or divorce and other kinds of loss. Grief is about all of the emotions that are caused by the change or end in anything familiar. Back in the early 70s, my classmates and I instinctively knew that we were at an emotional crossroads, and that we wanted and needed to etch each other into our personal memory banks. I don't know if any of us could have verbalized that back then, but it was clearly why most of us risked our parents’ wrath by coming home late. My son also recognized that the ending of high school and the beginning of college heralded many changes, with the biggest one being the end of the time together, at least in the special way it had always been for his group. He was emotionally eloquent in expressing what he was experiencing. In return, I was honored to be trusted with his feelings. Although my mom loved me, she had an occasional habit of leading with her fears and anger. Like most children, I'm sure that I had copied much of my mother's behavior. But that night my son showed me that I had managed to break much of that old pattern, and that I could create safety for me and my son. I tip all of my hats to the folks at the Grief Recovery Institute for helping me find the way to respond from love instead of fear. Curfews and rules are important. We would never suggest otherwise. But there are better ways to deal with the inevitable breaches and to ensure that the essential relationships we have with our loved ones are not trumped by our reactions to them. We are now in graduation season, and soon there will be the traditional June weddings for many of our kids and their friends, and then we will come upon the empty-nesting that often accompanies our only or last child's move to college. If we remember that grief is inevitable, even within happy occasions, we can communicate lovingly with our children about the most important stuff - the goo in our hearts for them.