This is How we Walked Through the Grief and Joy of Everest Turning 18

by | Aug 14, 2022 | Uncategorized | 39 comments

Many of you have been following me for years, which means you’ve essentially watched my children grow up. I started this blog when our oldest son, Everest, was five and half years old and Asher was just a newborn. They’re now 18 and 13.

I’ve written about their fears and the challenges/gifts of being highly sensitive people in this tenuous, uncertain world.

I’ve shared their triumphs and milestones, and talked about my own grief as they’ve grown up: the painful and inescapable awareness of the passage of time.

I’ve shared our birthday ritual where I read a letter to them the night before their birthday as a way to make room for the grief so that we can welcome joy on the actual day.

This year, with Everest’s permission, I’d like to share the letter that I read to him.

Truth be told, I could barely read this letter to Everest. The grief was bigger this year: him turning 18 and officially entering adulthood; knowing that this would likely be our last year celebrating his birthday in person (the military path begins earlier than civilian college); the overwhelming pride in who he is and the joy for the paths that are clarifying and unfolding before him. We sat in the sand on a warm Florida evening, the almost full moon gazing down upon us, waves lapping, ocean glowing, and I cried from word one. I paused when the grief overcame me and allowed it to course through. I reminded myself of the countless mothers who have stood on these shores and had to let their sons go. Slowly, with a full heart, with my solid son sitting beside me, I read him these words.

And the next day we celebrated: seeing dolphins, eating sushi, exploring islands, swimming in the ocean.

May this letter inspire you to make room for your grief in life as you remember, always, that grief and joy live in the same chamber of the heart.

***

My dear Everest,

Tomorrow you turn 18. I’m thinking about how many birthday letters I’ve written to you over the years. I’m remembering when you turned 15 and we sat on a beach in Vancouver and you told me that you wanted to be an astronaut. I’m remembering when you turned 16 and you were about to take your check ride for your pilot’s license. And last year: sitting on the beach in Marina del Rey, talking about your path in life and your clarity that you wanted to join the military. Now we’re sitting on a beach in Daytona, at an ocean that you will likely become very familiar starting next year.

All blurry things become clear eventually. With time and information, we wade through the discomfort of murky waters until they dissolve into clarity and we see the next choice. Just a few days ago we didn’t know where you’ll be next year at this time – and we still don’t know for sure. It’s hard not knowing. But soon enough we will know. You’ll get the “go-for-go” or “no-go” inner and outer signals – the yes or no – and the path will materialize before you.

As you step officially into adulthood on this 18th birthday, I want to tell you that I couldn’t be more proud of you. You’re the best of humans: honest, moral, ethical, kind, compassionate, hard-working, smart, focused, determined. When we walked through the Heroes and Legends exhibit at Kennedy Space Center I took a photo of the attributes that define astronauts and you embody all of them: inspired, clever, original, excited, motivated, visionary, principled. You are destined for this path. You’re reaching for the stars and I have no doubt that you’ll get there.

Tomorrow you become an adult. As always on your birthday, we feel both the sadness and the excitement: the sadness that you’re further away from childhood and the excitement for what’s ahead. I know I’ve shared this with you before but I have such a vivid memory of holding you on my lap when you were just a few weeks old and bursting into tears because I would only have 18 years with you at home. Well, as it turns out I get to have 19 years, but it still has passed too quickly. I will cherish every single day we have with you living at home. I know you’ll be back for breaks, of course, but it’s not the same.

And… I’m so excited for what lies ahead for you. When we were taking the tour at Embry-Riddle I could feel my rising excitement that this college exists and it feels like itwas made for you. The engineering department looks phenomenal. The campus is YOU to a tee. The flight line! The astronomy and sailing and sky-diving! I think it’s going to be the right balance of rigor and fun – and I think even the rigor and challenges are going to feel fun. In many ways, you’ve been ready for college for years. I have a feeling you’re going to ease right in like a boat in the water.

Everest, as you launch into this next stage of adulthood, I want you to know that I have complete trust in your competence to navigate your way in this world. I trust you totally in every way. I trust you to choose well for your body and physical health. I trust you to choose your friends well. I trust you to love a partner well and treat her with honor and respect and kindness and thoughtfulness. I trust you to do the right thing. I trust your ethics and morals. I trust that you will stand up to injustice. I trust you to make this world a better place.

I trust you to rise to challenges and seek help when a challenge is too big to manage alone. You will stumble. You will make mistakes. You will hurt others unintentionally and you will get hurt. This is part of life. But I trust you to rise back up, to make repairs, to communicate responsibly and vulnerably, to learn from your mistakes and let your insatiable growth mindset continue to hone you into your best self.

My heart overflows with pride in the young man you have become, the young man who will soon be entering the world, the young man who is now an adult.

I’m the luckiest person to be your mom. And wherever you are in this world – or on the moon and Mars – I’m with you: cheering you on, celebrating your triumphs, holding your struggles, and believing in you every step of the way.

I love you so much. Happy 18th birthday!

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39 Comments

  1. So moving and touching, Sheryl! I read this as I sit next to my two young sons, ages 4 and 2 (and infant daughter) and I have tears in my eyes. Despite the exhaustion of caring for little ones, I know that my time with them is precious, and I count my blessings every day. I hope to be able to communicate to my kids my deep love and trust I have in them with your eloquence. Your son is as lucky to have you as you him. Sending hugs!

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    • I sit here wiping tears as I have a 3 year old and a 9 month old. I see how fast this all goes. I see how the days are long but the years are oh so short. What a beautifully written letter, Sheryl. Your words spoke right to my heart and I can only imagine the bittersweet feeling you have within your heart. Thank you for sharing.

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      • What a beautiful feeling to see other mothers of young ones going through the same grief- and joy-filled experience reading this blog. I have a 3 year old and a 10 month old, and currently feel I’m absolutely out of patience in the day-to-day but also feel like I want to hold onto these little ones forever.

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        • Oh, I remember those days when patience runs thin (and is non-existent). That part does get easier!

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        • So beautiful. I’m sitting on my couch reading this, crying and listening to my daughter pack excitedly for college in her bedroom above the room I’m in. We take her in a few days. She’s our last to go. I can’t believe it. My baby girl is really going. I’m so happy for her. I’m happy for my husband and I and yet…I’m sobbing. It’s a time of so much complex and contradictory emotions. Thank you for sharing your journey to help us know we’re not alone in our deep feelings about all of this.

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          • Your comment brings tears to my eyes. Sending off your baby girl! Oh, the emotions are so complex and they cast a net far and wife. Sending big hugs as you traverse this next transition.

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      • Thank you, Cody. The grief is so present at each stage, and the joy is always bigger. What an extraordinary path it is to mother these beings.

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    • Thank you, Maya! Your words bring tears to my eyes. Sending big hugs.

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  2. Absolutely lovely. We just celebrated my sons 4th birthday and the joy of moving into more emotional regulation combined with the grief of stepping out of the youngest years was a tangle of emotions. Thank you for sharing your wise encouragement and kindness with your son who is— only a little in some ways and a lot in other ways—further along than my son. It makes me feel peace knowing I’m not alone in the tangle of transition.

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    • My elder son has turned 18 in June and I’ll be bringing him tomorrow to the city where he will study medicine during one year. It’s 1 and a half hour drive but these studies are so hard he will barely come home before next summer and my health won’t allow me to visit him so often.
      I’m feeling so sad that our regular life together is over. After 18 years. I don’t have many people to share this feeling with (I’m freshly divorced, don’t see many people due to a recent burn out, have hardly any family), so I’m feeling so grateful I’m finally crying while writing this comment.
      I will miss him, and so will his younger brother – I’m lucky I still have time with my 12 yo son.
      But I’m also very proud and so happy for him that he follows this path he’s been passionate about for so long.

      Thanks so much for sharing this Sheryl, I m feeling connected ❤

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      • Anne-Sophie, sending you love and hugs in your transition. 💖

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      • I’m so glad the tears are coming through, Anne-Sophie, and that you’re shared some of your feelings with us here. Letting the grief come up and out will guide you through, as will reaching out to others when you can.

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    • Not alone at all, Cassie. And a tangle, indeed. It’s all so beautifully messy.

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  3. I have tears in my eyes. Thank you for sharing this beautiful and tender letter. Thank you for inspiring me and for the generosity with which you share. So grateful for you! 💓

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  4. Thank you, Sheryl. This brought me to tears. I have been searching for a birthday ritual for my son and myself. He turned 12 the 12th of August, and I see him leaving childhood more and more and soon entering his teenage years. I wish I had read this in advance of his birthday, but I think I will write him a letter anyway, reading it to him one day soon.

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    • It’s not too late! Transitions extend to either side of the main day. I encourage you to write the letter and read it to him if it feels right.

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    • Thank you for sharing this beautiful letter Sheryl. It touched me deeply and I’m so grateful for you! My son just started high school so I am feeling the grief and excitement you’ve described, and it’s so nice to know I’m not alone!

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      • Not at all alone! We’re all in this grief together. 💕

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  5. Dearest Sheryl,
    As a mom of a boy, now a grown man with children, I remember these years well.

    That your son gave his permission to share this says so much about the relationship you have co-created, as does this rich and gorgeous letter. What a gift to us.

    This is such a huge transition for both of you. Stunningly beautiful, achingly hard, amazingly wonderful. Holding you in my heart with so much love. ❤️

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    • Thank you so much, Lori. It always touches me deeply to hear from mothers who are ahead of me on the journey. ❤️

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  6. This moved me so much Sheryl. This is what is possible after 18 years when a mother and son tend to their relationship with the consistency and humility and honesty that your both have. I am humbled to read that. When my (now 6yo) twin sons turn 18, I hope I can have a relationship with each of them that approximates the solid, deep, trusting love and mutual respect that you both clearly share. I know it is not luck, and that kind of relationship doesn’t happen by default. Thank you for in so many ways proving the example and inspiration I most need to steer me for the next leg of the journey. Cxx

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    • Thank you so much, Clara. You know, I actually think some of it is luck. Everest is a rare human, and we’ve just so lucky that he’s our son. But yes, we’ve poured our time and energy into our sons, and done our best to maintain trust at every stage. Thank you for your beautiful reflections.

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  7. Sheryl (and Everest!), wow, thank you. I feel so touched and especially in awe of the trust part of the letter. I am sending a heart full of warm wishes to Everest and you, and to your family.

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    • Thank you, Jamie. I’m so touched by your words and I will share them with Everest. Yes, the trust blows me away. It’s a testament to his character and his integrity, which he’s been able to hold onto during these teenage, high school years.

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  8. I was crying before I had got to the letter to Everest. I couldn’t finish reading it, I will, just not at the same sitting. Thank you to you both, you are such inspirations.

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    • Me too! I cried before I even started reading the letter and I couldn’t get through the whole thing.

      Thank you, Sheryl and Everest for letting us glimpse into your life and for modelling grief and love and letting go for me. Happiest of birthdays Everest and all the best on your journey! xo

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    • Thank you, Fiona. Yes, it took me a very long time to read it. Everest sat patiently in the sand, looking at the sea, a sweet smile on his face. One breath at a time. That’s how we get through the grief of this life.

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  9. Thank you for sharing this Sheryl ♥️ I am sending heartfelt Birthday wishes to Everest and his lucky parents.

    My 6 yo son is starting his second week at school and am realizing what an (unexpected, but not surprising) heart-wrenching transition it has been for me over the past months.

    It has required letting go of so much control over him and trusting other adults to guide him too. Letting go of the freedom and flexibility he had until now at kindergarten feels like a huge loss.

    As the intrusive thoughts about our choice of school are subsiding (thank god for the GTU course!), I’m able to connect to the raw pain of letting him go a little bit.

    Remembering the pain of labour as an initiation helps a lot – it does feel as excruciatingly painful as birth at times, and as mind-blowing and empowering.

    I know too well that each threshold will require me to go through this pain again and again… I found myself imagining him getting married and having to make space for the man or woman he’ll love and it felt so bittersweet (even though i so wish this for him!!!) ♥️

    As a highly sensitive, sometimes I feel like my heart is going to burst from all the love I feel for my sons. So beautiful and painful at the same time. So many gifts and so many tiny and big losses.

    And it helps to know that millions of other mothers have walked this path, and I’m grateful you’re ahead of me to light this path 🥰

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    • Yes, the kindergarten transition isn’t so different from the high school transition: we have to let them go, and it’s excruciating and heart-expanding all at once. Each transition prepares us for the next, as long as we go through them consciously and make endless space for the grief. Sending you huge hugs! 🥰

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  10. Thank you for sharing this! Not only to give some fresh perspective for me as I parent my three-year-old daughter and nine-month-old son, but also to provide a good outlet for the future. I always find myself crying at some point on special days, and I love this idea of giving that grief a place the night before so that the actual day can be light & happy.

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  11. Thank you for sharing this heartfelt letter, Sheryl. I have two young boys (6 and 3) and I always enjoy reading about your sons. I am constantly caught between wanting the difficult phases to pass, to feeling like time is moving too fast. My three-year-old wants me do everything with him/for him and it’s exhausting but I also know I will miss this when he’s more independent and wanting to go off and play with friends like my older son. I never knew how hard and how emotional it would be to be a mother, just hoping I’m there for my sons enough and supportive of them in following their dreams (even if it’s totally scary!). You’re an inspiration!

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    • Motherhood is exactly that: wanting the difficult phases/days to pass and simultaneously wanting to stop time. What a confusing, contradictory path! But yes, supporting them in their dreams is one of the secret keys to all of it being worth it.

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  12. I know I’m late, but I still want to congratulate you both, Sheryl, and Everest for this very special birthday! Wishing you all the best!

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  13. Wow. I cried. And then I cried a little more. Especially the I trust you-part. I wished I had had a mom like that – and I hope – I really hope my two small daughters will hear some of those sentences from me. And I think I’ll start write them birthday letters. Best idea ever. Thank you

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