Bereavement Without Death

(Have A Nice Life)

Kids hey? Who’d ‘ave ‘em?

It all starts when you bring them home as new-born babes, cocooned in their layers of blankets, fresh out of a watery womb-world, launched naked into the unknown. At this point in time, as a new parent, you pretty much have carte-blanche control over what your precious cargo are exposed to. Essentially, they belong to you. The reality is, they are only ever on loan.

As your growing bundle of joy lies immobile on his/her back, staring up at you from the Fisher Price baby gym, just able to focus past the hanging shapes they naturally try to discover, your thoughts can easily wander as you contemplate an unwritten future. What will they grow up to be? Will they have lots of friends? Will they like school?

Thankfully, these dalliances into a crystal ball are brief occurrences as your brain takes over and restores your train of thought to what matters right now. Sure, plenty of people who have already done the baby thing will tell you, “Blink and they’ve grown up!” something you suspect is probably true, but always worth keeping in denial.

But blink; and it really does pass in what seems to be a moment. Gradually, landmark after landmark are passed on the journey to adulthood until your new-borns are resigned to distant memory, held in photographic evidence of a previous life.

First day at school picture
First day at senior school, in the morning, about to jump a new life-hurdle.

As if the school hurdles weren’t bad enough, there is, an even more distressing milestone on the life-map to be realised and faced – the leaving-home experience…

This can go two ways. You may have emerged from a near decade of stroppy teenage angst and might be looking forward to some peacetime. On the other hand, you could (like in our case) have nurtured little home-birds who despite having ambitions to forge their way in the big wide world, also feel a reluctance to leave the protection of the family and all that has kept them emotionally secure. It’s not about free food, shelter and all the materialistic stuff that gets forfeited for freedom, it’s more about losing that unconditional security that only a loving home can provide; and that’s where the harrowing feeling of loss gatecrashes like an uninvited visitor, ready to rip up your emotional wellbeing without a shred of mercy.

My adult son, Parr St Studios image
And before you know it, they’re doing your job!

Regardless of the assumption that all involved are rational adults and this is supposed to be the next step on the life-journey, the experience of your child leaving home to go into further education is akin to the distress endured following a death in the family. Trust me, it is.

Despite there being no death, the sense of loss can be immense and analogous to what is experienced during bereavement. Yet again, this is another testing life-chapter that isn’t covered in the invisible child-rearing manual; another sink-or-swim emotional upheaval you never bargained for; another gut-wrenching kick to the stomach. Making it all the worse, is your child’s 11th hour self-doubting reluctance to make that final leap from the nest. They may have talked the talk about going away in the preceding months, but when push comes to the shove, the reality is a cold wake-up call to adulthood, fraught with colossal fears of the unknown. This of course, has a less than helpful effect on the parental side as you struggle to be strong and keep your almost uncontrollable emotions in check.

There is no ‘being a man’ about this; the harsh realisation that you are about to lose that little baby to the big bad world, for the final time, is a merciless, cold-hearted blow to the soul. Truth be told, none of the parties in my experience really wanted to let go. None of us were really ready for it. This was going to be the biggest change to our closely knit unit since their arrival as babies; and it hurt, almost like death itself, but without the finality.

We must have driven through two English counties before the tears finally stopped, knowing we’d said goodbye to our first born to let him pursue his own future. If you want to dig the knife a little deeper and give it twist, just to make sure you really are hurting, forget about the twee McCartney quaintness of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ and instead, opt for the reality of Nik Kershaws’s masterpiece on the subject, ‘Have A Nice Life’. On the other hand, maybe don’t; leave it a few days until the dust has settled and you’ve got to grips with the new situation. The music still hurts, but you will have finally accepted that they will come back to you, sooner than you think, enriched by the experience of finding their own independence.

On the positive side, you shouldn’t let the pain of breaking the home-bonds void the pride you should feel about your child’s achievements thus far, and the extra pride you can take in knowing  you have raised an individual strong enough to take that leap into the unknown.

Indeed, have a nice life son.

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