My grandad lived two miles down the road from his country church. One night after service, he drove right past his house, stopping over four hours away when he realized he didn’t know where he was. A very kind gas station attendant helped him call my dad for help.
The next day, my grandad handed my dad the keys to his truck and announced it was time for him to move into town to an assisted living facility. No arguments. No pleading from my dad. He just realized it was time and moved on to the next phase of his life. When it was time for more serious care, he again announced the move in his usual, matter-of-fact tone.
The last time I saw him was during a Thanksgiving visit to his nursing home. A lady in the hallway begged us to take her home as we walked by her door. It was heartbreaking.
Then we entered the cafeteria where we found my grandad sitting in his wheelchair, unashamedly teasing a friend. He didn’t ask us to take him home or chastise us for visiting more infrequently than he would like, although he would have been within his rights to do so. Instead, he introduced me to his friend, told me stories, and asked me to share mine.
When we left, I peeked through a window to see him one more time. It is the last picture I have of him in my mind. He had his head back laughing a full belly laugh in a place where so many around him frowned, missing what life used to be.
You might be reading this thinking my grandad must have been some kind of saint. He wasn’t. He could be stubborn. He had a temper, and he could sometimes be so brutally honest that he left a scar on your self-esteem for years to come.
However, my grandad had learned about letting go of one stage in life and moving to the next the hard way. My grandmother had a debilitating stroke. My grandad spent the next six years caring for her every need. When it finally became too much for him, he had to place her in a skilled nursing facility.
Even though she didn’t remember his name, she did not take the move quietly. She screamed and cursed at him. It broke his heart when she was gone a couple of weeks later. He said it felt like he lost both a child and a wife, and he hated she had been mad at him at the end.
So, when his time came, he handed the keys over to my dad.
I wish I had understood his wisdom more when my oldest child left home. Instead of giving her the responsibility for her own life, I hovered. I demanded. Where was she going? Why was she doing that? What in the world was she thinking? I gave advice when it wasn’t asked for, and I passed every fear for her future straight to her to drag around. The keys to her freedom were held tightly in my grip. Who did she think she was to try and take them??
Why do we do this as parents? Why do we hold on so tightly? For me, it is because I don’t want MY world to change. I never struggled giving up my own time, sleep, or food for my children. However, when it came to giving up expectations for what I wanted my own life to be, well, that was harder.
Give up buying new shoes to buy my child a toy? Easy. Give up sleep to take care of a sick child? Easy. Give up my dream of my child living down the street and calling me every day? Ouch. Hard.
Now that my little chicks have both flown the nest, I want them to fly without baggage. No feeling guilty that things are not like they once were. No guilt over not calling and visiting on my terms. No guilt over changing holiday and family traditions to something new. No guilt over not asking my advice when making every decision. No expectations that they follow a predetermined path I have set for them.
I want them to blaze their own trails and face their own stages, knowing that I am cheering them on.
In the meantime, I will face my own stage with the brave face I want them to have one day. I will cherish the people that walk alongside me and savor each small goodness that life hands me.
Maybe my own kids will peek inside the window of my life one day, catch me with my head thrown back in the middle of a belly laugh, and realize that I let them have the keys because I loved them.
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