A theme has emerged these past two weeks in my groups, individual sessions, and of course, in my own life: the passage of time. With three weeks left until Everest leaves for college, the heartache and joy embedded in the passage of time is acute in our household.

On the one hand I ask: How? How did he grow from the baby in my lap to a young man of almost 19? How is it that I started writing this blog when we was six years old, and even posted about the passage of time back then?

And on the other hand I say: Of course. Everything is unfolding as it’s meant to unfold.

And, always: Thank you. Thank you for this human that I have been so blessed to raise.

Why Highly Sensitive People are Attuned to the Passage of Time

Highly sensitive people are highly attuned to the passage of time. When my clients talk about it, they highlight these areas:

  • Longing for childhood

  • Worry about parents aging & dying

  • Feeling heartache with seasonal changes

  • Feeling emptiness as afternoon light fades into night

  • Nostalgia for the past

  • Struggling with birthdays

  • A fear of getting older

  • An acute awareness of children growing up

Why are we so tuned in to the passage of time? Because we’re attuned to loss. And because time is a continual cycle of loss and renewal, we feel the passage of time daily in the deepest places of our hearts.

Because we weren’t guided along the passageways of grief in early years, we likely learned to shut down to our pain or run to the safety of our heads to find protection in the labyrinthian distraction of anxiety and intrusive thoughts. As such, grief becomes log-jammed and high sensitivity can feel like a burden.

But when we learn to open our hearts and feel the grief that is a daily part of life – learning how to follow its wisdom and channel it into tears or breath or poetry or dance – we also learn that being so deeply connected to loss means we’re connected to love. For loss and love live in the same pocket of the heart.

In essence, we’re more tapped into grief which means – if we can keep our hearts open – we’re also more available to joy.

Life, then, becomes more precious in the best sense of that word. Dancing between loss and love, we discover what it is to be fully alive.

How Do I Grieve?

How do I grieve? Let me count the ways…

I breathe into the ache in my chest. Sometimes tears prick my eyes. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I weep and wail to where it feels like the pain will break me open. Sometimes I’m quiet.

Sometimes the grief is heavy, like a raincloud that will not release its tears. At these time I climb the stairs and lie down on my bed and stare out the windows. This is more of a melancholy grieving. The tears usually come eventually, but until they do I’m left with the heaviness of unshed rain. I try to make room for this, too. The unromantic grief. The uncreative grief. The grief that does not feel alive.

I write. A lot. A few days ago, Everest and I were sitting in the living room and I couldn’t stop staring at him. Later I wrote:

You’re sitting in the chair in the corner of sunny room and I’m staring at you, trying to memorize you, trying to fix you into this spot because I know I won’t be seeing you sit there once you leave for college. You’ll be back, I know, but it won’t be the same. Alongside the stool at the kitchen island, that chair in the corner is one of your spots.

I don’t want you to go. I want you to go because it’s what’s right and good, but I don’t want you to go. When I think about you leaving I get a pit in my stomach – the same feeling I used to get when I had separation anxiety as a kid and teen. The longing for home. And it occurs to me that this is like homesickness in reverse: if you’re a piece of my home, and you’re leaving, then I will long for the piece of home that lives in you.

For nearly 19 years I have seen you every single day. In recent years when you’ve traveled with school or Navy boot camp, you would be gone for two or three weeks at a time, but it was always finite and I knew you would be back within a reasonable amount of time. This is different. You’ll be gone for months at a time. I don’t like it. I don’t want it.

In making space for the not liking and not wanting, in opening to grief in all its forms, acceptance arrives. It’s not linear and it’s not neat. In fact, it’s very messy. Snotty messy. Heartache messy. A terrible, beautiful dance between resistance and acceptance, between grief and joy, between loss and love.

The Dance of Grief and Gratitude

There is a dance between grief and gratitude which I understand more deeply  now. I’m standing at the creek and I see Everest and Asher as young boys, playing in the water, making up games and words and worlds together. A pang of grief, missing those days, the nostalgia of memory.

But then… also… such gratitude for these memories. Gratitude for these moments. Gratitude that my boys played at the creek as part of their childhood. I’m so grateful that I get to be their mother. I’m so grateful that we homeschooled all those years and that these trees, these living waters, this land were some of their teachers.

Grief and gratitude.

When the memories arrive, I breathe into both: heart-ache and heart-open – twin petals on the flower of love – and as I do I can feel my capacity for love expanding.

From Grief and Emptiness Come Joy: The Three Stages of Transitions

The three stages of transitions that I’ve studied and taught for decades also land more deeply:

Separation – Liminal – Renewal

Grief – Emptiness – Joy

I have felt so much grief these past several months. Then the emptiness and disorientation of the liminal stage arrived as I started to feel the empty place that Everest will leave behind when he goes to college and the recognition that the task of raising this human is complete. I have poured myself into him since the moment of conception – over 19 years – and now my job is done. We have raised him to adulthood and he no longer needs us in the same way.

He’s an adult. He works. He has a checking account. He goes to the bank and the dentist. He takes good care of his body. He knows how to communicate in relationships. He took an Oath of Office to serve our country. He’s heading to college. He is an adult.

There is a certain way that he will always need us, just as I need my husband and my friends, but he no longer needs us to parent him. He doesn’t want our advice; he wants our trust.

My job is done. 

The grief-emptiness-joy of that sentence surges through my entire being.

What new flowers will grow in our garden while Everest is at college?

How will the mothering energy that I’ve poured into him be re-channeled?

In what ways will Asher blossom and shine without Everest in his daily life?

Holding my grief and emptiness close, I make a way for excitement. A new stage is upon us. What will it bring?! I’m curious to find out.

Saying Goodbye

In a few weeks, the four of us will board a plane for Florida. A few days later, three of us will return home. I don’t know how we’ll say goodbye, but we will.

Then he’ll be back. And then he’ll leave. Then he’ll be back. And so it goes. From babyhood to adulthood. we love them with our entire hearts and hold the tether as they walk further and further into the world, always knowing that their place of home that lives in the cord of love will never, ever break.

For an in-depth conversation about The Passage of Time, please see our Gathering Gold episode on this topic that we recorded in February 2022.

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