by Oma Joy
Twelve and a half years ago, when our eldest child and only daughter left home for a mission assignment in Asia, my husband and I both shed tears. But we were undergirded by a sense of being part of a purpose greater than ourselves.
I remember my co-workers frequently saying things like, “How can you let her move so far away?” or “I could never do what you are doing.” And my response was that I loved and supported my daughter and wanted to bless her to pursue the calling she was made for. I would say, “I didn’t have children so that they could live down the street just to make me happy.”
But 12 years ago, I had no idea how long a life-time calling would be: how many birthdays and Christmases, Easter dinners and graduations, funerals and weddings we would miss sharing together. And I could not have anticipated what it would be like to miss watching my grandchildren grow up.
Yesterday we said goodbye once again. We know the routine well. The flurry in the days prior to leaving, the “last” trip to the library, the “last” walk to the park, the “last” hug with a grandparent who likely won’t be living when you return, the steady stream of family and friends who come for final goodbyes the day before departure, the banter and photos at the airport, the anxiety over the mountain of luggage and wondering if it will clear the final weight check, the tearful hugs that avoid any total breakdown, the final waves as you slowly disappear down the escalator, and then some real sobs when you are out of sight, and finally the several-hour drive home where we talk about anything other than the departure.
But then we return to the house. The home that we have shared for six months: three generations, two cultures speaking two languages, with very little privacy or sound barrier. A home that has been filled with so much life and laughter and noise. And the silence is deafening. What can I do but put some of your things away and count the ways that I find you?
So I wrote an ode to my grandsons, ages 7 and 9.
How do I miss you? Let me count the ways.
I miss you in the 23 paper airplanes, paper boats and paper rockets that I find upstairs and downstairs. I pick ten to keep on my dining room table for a while.
I miss you in the color yellow (Samuel’s favorite) which seems to be everywhere: yellow dishes, yellow towels, yellow Legos, yellow pillows, a favorite yellow cup. For the rest of my life I will always think of you when I see yellow.
I miss you in the leftover bottles of shampoo in your shower, whose smell is exactly how you smelled in the mornings when you were freshly dressed for school and gave me wonderful hugs.
I miss you in the children’s health insurance card that I no longer need to carry in my wallet.
I miss you in the bags of library books waiting to be returned. I miss you when I find the note, on yellow paper, which showed the authors or titles we were supposed to look for at the library. Bill Peet, Robert Munsch, Shel Silverstein, and Hopper the Rabbit.
I miss you as I pack away the winter hats and gloves (reminders of a freezing day in our town), which I store for perhaps another winter furlough. But who knows what size you might be then?
I miss you in the kites that were left in our junk room, the ones from a birthday party that have your names on them.
I miss you in the box taped shut, guarding your tin-can telephones and string. I wonder if they will reach all the way to Asia.
I miss you in the tiny silver chain that you found on our trip to Silver Lake, a chain that became Samuel’s focus of the outing and which now hangs by my window.
I miss you at the breakfast table when I watch the momma bird sit on her nest and think about how excited you would have been to see these eggs hatch.
I miss you when I find the special Asia ketchup sauce that you needed for every meal, and I miss you when I overeat your curly cheese snacks, trying to bring you back to my table.
I miss you when I find the car booster seat and think of all the places we went together, and I am happy when I share it with your mother’s friend to use for transporting children to church.
I miss you when I find the white container in the shower that served as your adapted Asian water bathing barrel.
I miss you when I find the box from Jeffery’s friend, delivered the night before you left with a note saying, “I wish I could go with you.” You took the toy, but I’m saving the note from the box. I agree with your friend.
I miss you when I smell microwave popcorn, which you ate every day after school, and when I wash your favorite bowls and cups, and when I look at all your art on my refrigerator.
I miss you every time I sign on to my computer or use numerous apps that need passwords, because clearly that is what grandsons’ birthdays are made for: passwords. (Shh, don’t tell.)
I miss you when your “go to sleep” song is stuck in my head on an endless loop, reminding me of the times that I got to do bedtime with you.
I miss you as I wash your sheets and towels and pillowcases and store your blankets. It is a sacred task. It was not long ago that I had so much fun picking out fuzzy flannel sheets for your winter furlough, a furlough which included the first Christmas here at home together in 12 years. A furlough which included celebrating three of the four birthdays in your family, and a wonderful wedding for your beloved uncle and new aunt. A furlough which included a friend-filled semester at the local elementary school, as well as Sunday school, kid’s club, and children’s choir at our church, a special time at the cabin in the woods, and so much more.
I miss you, and so I promise to keep doing the things I know how to do: reading online children’s books, sending you books through Book Depository, communicating through What’s App and Messenger, playing online Rummikub, sending Christmas care packages in early November, praying day and night, and renting our basement apartment to make money for tickets to come to see you.
As your adaptable minds and hearts have shown us, it is possible to love people on both sides of the world. So we will all keep growing and loving wherever we are planted, until the next time we are planted in the same place for a season. But I will never stop seeing you and hearing you here with me, because you lived in my house, and you always live in my heart. I love you.
Oma Joy is a pastor living in the Southern United States. She and her husband worked with a church development agency in Honduras from 1986-1989 and in the Philippines from 2002-2005. They are the proud parents of three adult TCKs and the grandparents of two TCK grandsons.