Well, this is how it seems to me.
Back when I came to the Board, everyone was telling me that difficult child was a man and that, for his own sake, I needed to let go and let God.
And I literally could not do it.
Intellectually, I could see the value of handing responsibility for his life over to him, but emotionally I could not do it.
I was grieving. I worried over him as though he were twelve years old, or fourteen.
Then I realized that, in my mind...those were the pictures called up when I thought about difficult child.
I just could not make the connection between difficult child and my son.
It was as though, in my mind, I had lost my son. It was as though he were still fourteen, and had disappeared.
Even though I KNEW where he was, and what he had done, and all the terrible things that had transpired in the interim.
And I wondered how that could be.
How could I know what the reality was but be reacting from the emotions of a mother whose fourteen year old son has been snatched away and needs help?
Because that is just what it felt like, whatever I knew, intellectually.
So, this is what makes sense, to me.
It helped me to view it this way because I could see and name the feelings as irrational in a way I had not been able to do, before.
Remember how, back when we were responsible for our babies, our attention was focused, solely and naturally and easily, on everything having to do with those babies. Diaper rash, colic, how often to burp them, what their first words were, when they walked, whether these things were happening on time. If you think back to that time, you will remember listening to every bit of advice, learning how to parent better, how to be more responsive, how to get the child to eat nutritious foods and on, and on.
You were fascinated with everything having anything to do with your child.
And, back as our species was evolving, moms who did not fixate on their children in that way did not produce very many offspring who lived to adulthood.
We always presume that this fascination a mom has for her children ends somewhere along about the time the child is ready to become an adult.
But what if, as happened to you, and to me, the child is simply abruptly gone?
When next you interact with them, they are adult people who look like your child might have looked...but they act nothing like your child.
It seems to me that, at least for me, there is an instinctual part of my psyche (that same, instinctual force that saw me fixating on the care of my infants) that is still searching for my son.
To this day, I feel I lost my son at sixteen. Somewhere in the depths of my psyche, he is still fourteen and he needs me.
Because the rest of my psyche knows he did not make it.
I know it doesn't make sense.
But the instinct to mother and nurture doesn't make sense, either.
Until I worked through my feelings in this way, I could not separate the adult male who now exists from the fourteen year old screaming for help in my mind.
I think these responses are genetically mandated and hormonally mediated.
However those initial bonding behaviors between mom and baby are initiated, Moms whose children do not progress normally do not produce the hormonal release that interacting with a child who is present in the home on a daily basis provides.
Our children were one day just gone.
And somewhere in our psyches where we cannot see or touch it, we are still searching for that child who disappeared.
I know it doesn't make intellectual sense.
It rings so true for me, though.
You hear about mothers of every species who carry the bodies of their infants with them. That is what I think I was doing, too. I could not get it that my child had not died or was not still out there somewhere needing my help.
The child I have now in the world just cannot be my child.
He doesn't feel the same.
Isn't that sad?
But it was more sad when I did not know that it was my sense of loss that was fueling my response to the thirty year old man who IS my child.
Our minds and our spirits operate irrationally. Intellectualizing our situations does not help us (at least, it did not help me). I needed to acknowledge that I believed, in my heart, that my son was still alive in the world as he was in the time that I lost him.
Whether it is rational or not, that is what, somewhere in the heart of me, I believe.
I don't think I have ever stopped looking for him.
It is disconcerting to see my real difficult child ~ though I do sometimes see a flash of my son in his eyes.
I think that, for those of us whose children were gone during their adolescences, we never do understand that the adult who came back to us is the child we lost.
WE are always looking for that lost child. The longer he or she is missing, the more frantic that underlying message becomes.
Like all things, if we can uncover and acknowledge those feelings, we can heal that grieving mother within us.
But boy, until I could do that?
I could not, for the life of me, see my difficult child as an adult.
And I do think these responses are hormonally mediated. Unless we interact with our adolescent children, we never receive the hormonally mediated key to let them go.
So, I don't think you are mourning an empty nest so much as that you are searching for your lost child.
And even though her adult self is there? And even though she is named the same and calls you mom?
Somewhere in your heart she is still whatever age she was when you lost her.
And she needs help.
It was easier for me once I understood this about myself. It feels a little like telling yourself there is nothing under the bed or in the closet. You name the fear irrational and go back to sleep. For me, I can remind myself that difficult child DID grow up, did survive, does not need my help.
That is why the "kidnapped by drug use" imagery works so well for me.
I know where my son is.
Before I was able to know that?
I cannot tell you how painful it was.
I hope this helps you, Golden Guru.
It was the most searing kind of pain I have ever experienced. It made me irrational. I could not stop grieving, but I could not name the grief, either.
What helped me was to be sincere with myself. No beating myself up because I was supposed to feel stronger or colder or smarter. I needed to make a separation between my grief and my living child. I needed to understand that I DID lose a child ~ that he was already gone and there was nothing I could do about it. Just as a mother who has truly lost a child teaches herself there is nothing she can do now, either.
Because rational or not, I did lose a child.
And I never, ever saw him, again.
And both you and I need to respect ourselves enough to nurture that grieving mother within, instead of condemning her for not being able to cut her child loose.