It’s not easy finding a raison d’être once the ‘children’ have left home. Maybe this was less of a problem when adults died younger and when people didn’t move far from home. But now, having ‘children’ scattered here, there and everywhere is a real heart-piercer. When the separation is a result of one’s own decisions, rather than random circumstances, there is the added layer of guilt.
When we came to Ireland in 1988, our daughter went straight to secondary school, but the boys were in cathedral choir schools in England. They remained there for 1 and 3 years until they came to secondary school in Dublin. In those days it was the small Fokkers that flew to and from East Midlands and Leeds/Bradford, and the memory of watching our little fellers walking across the tarmac to the plane at Dublin airport still destroys me. We lived near the Sugar Loaf in Co Wicklow and from the house we could see the St Columba plying between Dun Laoghaire and Holyhead. It was excruciating to watch it on its way east. How I wished I were on it. Sometimes I went to see them on my own in the car, arriving at Holyhead about 3 am. The journey on the A5/A55 was usually accompanied by the BBC world service, Lilliburlero screaming out of the radio at about Colwyn Bay. Soon, the joy of reunion, the delight of being with them. One particularly ecstatic episode of an unexpected visit is vivid. Then the agony of separation. And all self-inflicted.
It’s not that I want them at my beck and call. I don’t. I don’t want to influence their lives. I feel as if the only thing I want to do is to be of service to them. Well, now I’ve written that, I see that that is in a way trying to influence them. Paradox. Having passed my genes on, I am now expendable, biologically useless, merely titrating the time remaining to me above ground. Previous accomplishments pale into insignificance, particularly when they came at the cost of not paying attention to important relationships. Maybe I am too hard on myself, but I think—indeed I know, based on what I am told by those who open their hearts to me—that I am not alone in feeling like this. Parents, and men in particular, are caught between, on the one hand, the demands of having to ‘pretend’ to be enthusiastic about targets and strategies and plans and pleasing bosses and watching one’s back, and, on the other, the guilt that arises from the way that this distracts from relationships that matter. It sometimes felt like prostitution. In my previous post I quoted Bronnie Ware’s book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, in which she wrote that every man she nursed wished he hadn’t worked so hard. You can see why.
Life is messy. Someone once said that grief is the price we pay for love. I wonder how diplomats cope with the grief of having their children at boarding school overseas. It’s not something I would do again: I’ve not recovered from the first time yet.