Thankfully, we left all Xander’s mission shopping and packing to the last minute.
Oh, I know. Popular wisdom decrees that when you are leaving for two years, you should shop early, pack meticulously and double check your lists. But those last few days at home are fraught with emotion and the tedious tasks of buying twelve white shirts, filling out forms, searching out sturdy shoes and polish, gave form and substance to our days.
Most of those errands were just me and Xander. I didn’t feel the need to dispense advice to him but he gave me instructions on teaching Gabe and Mary– “Make sure Gabe talks to people at Skyline. He needs to befriend the lonely kids.” “Make sure Mary keeps reading her scriptures.” And my favorite, “Every time you want to buy Mary something she doesn’t need, take that money and put it in a jar. And when we come home we’ll have enough to go hang-gliding.”
Hang-gliding. One of the items on our summer bucket list for years. Over and over, Xander and I visited hang-gliding websites, watched videos and even found reasonably priced lessons. But we never found the time to actually go. So in the last few days criss-crossing town to visit the DMV and Walmart, the bank and the drugstore, we reassured each other, “In two years we’ll go hang-gliding.”
And then we’d both choke up and drive in silence. So much to say, but neither of us wanted to start crying. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop.
We fit in one last hike, one more trip to the temple and on the Monday and Tuesday before he left, his friends started pouring in; dropping by the house to offer hugs and farewells. By Tuesday night all the other goodbyes had been said; we gathered in the hallway to pack his bags and let the tears flow.
One week before, I woke up in the night to find Erik sobbing. “I just realized Xander’s really leaving.” he wept. We’d lived a summer in denial (which I highly recommend), went on a family trip until days before his departure (which I also recommend), but the Piper always comes.
It’s not really socially acceptable to express grief over a missionary leaving in Mormon culture. We are taught to be grateful and excited for their service (which we are) and it’s considered bad form to complain about missing your child.
But I miss my child.
Still, even among Mormons, I only know one other family who has sent out four missionaries in a row. And it’s wearing– the joy of one coming home and then turning around and resetting the clock for two long years before we’re together again.
But he’s prepared and excited and ready to go.
We took all the traditional photos outside the Missionary Training Center in Provo. Trading cameras with other tearful families gathering in little groups on the lawn.
Ben and Sammie had to say goodbye over the phone.
I’m so slow at writing this, he’s already been in the MTC a month. He has French and Mandarin tags and has yet to meet anyone else headed to Montreal. His letters are quirky and funny with secret codes and ridiculous stories. He’s made friends from all over, played his viola in a devotional, procured a Jew harp (which he loves), learned how to do a standing backflip from a gymnast and is nurturing the seed from a 500 lb pumpkin in his room.
So, he’s thriving.
And we are missing him.
“It’s not really socially acceptable to express grief over a missionary leaving in Mormon culture. We are taught to be grateful and excited for their service (which we are) and it’s considered bad form to complain about missing your child.
“But I miss my child.”
I miss my son and he’s not even gone yet. Just having the void in our home with him at college while we await his call has been something else.
I’m grateful you talk about the grief as well as the gratitude. “The only way to take the grief out of …[goodbyes]…is to take the love out of life.” Why wouldn’t it hurt when we love them so much?
Oh, this post. Yes. We’ve just sent our 4th missionary off (Three in the last three years; one at the end of every August…) And this last one just about did me in. There was a lovely six week overlap of number 2 and number 4–such a joy to witness their relationship during that time–the incoming and the outgoing. I feel like I self-censor my grief about this separation because I feel for the moms around me whose children can’t go, don’t want to go, come home after only a few months out–but there is still a hole in my heart, different from theirs, I know. I am having a really hard time “bouncing back” after the departure of this latest one. We also vacationed until the last minute, sacrificing prep-time for our soon to be missionary and soon to be college student, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was hard, but worth it. And we all deeply missed missionary number 3, who is in the middle of his service. I wouldn’t want them to be doing anything other than what they’re doing right now–it IS life changing, but the separation is real and hard. Tu me manques, mes fils!
I don’t read any complaints here. Reading the above comments, I do understand a bit better why you shouldn’t be seen “grieving”, but stuffing away feelings will only make you sick. And that is not a good way to serve any cause if you ask me. But you didn’t. You just shared your beautiful family and pictures and the love that just pours out of every post. Thank you! (also, I’d love to read Xander’s letters too, if you could still add my email to the list?)
I think you are such a brave and wonderful family. All of you.
Kind regards et bon vent!
You’re family is such a good example. You do hard things and good things and important things. Your love for each other pours out of your pictures and words. Missions are hard but good on the whole family involved, I think and the hard isn’t talked about so much. I’m glad you talk about it and keep it real. Thank you
Also I decided that if I am going to keep reading your blog I need to comment, so I am not just the silent or mostly observer I have been for so long.
Thank you, thank you for sharing all your experiences and wisdom. Two years (or 18 months) is just SO long. It is absolutely, completely worth it, but oh, how it hurts sometimes to have them away from us. I think the emotions in saying goodbye just feel almost too big to be contained in a human heart. You are doing amazing work. Your children are incredible. Sending you all the best
Jenny @ Unremarkable Files
When my oldest boy was about 3, I had a stop-dead-in-my-tracks moment where I realized, “He is going to go on a mission for TWO YEARS.” It had never really occurred to me before that and I immediately starting tearing up. With the age change, probably some of his sisters are going to go on missions, too. It’s okay to grieve. I fully plan to.