The Grief & Gifts found in Mothering from Afar.

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Every time I speak to my mother about her firstborn son, my older brother, she impulsively gets tears in her eyes.

She knew him for nine months in her womb, and three hours in the world. It was over 50 years ago, and still, her eyelids lower and her voice slows when he is mentioned.

So I write this with absolute gratitude that I still get to hold space with my son; I still get to hear his voice and see his beautiful face.

It’s been just over two years since I last wrote about my boy, who went to live in another country with his dad.

To me, he still seems nine, but the truth is, he is 12 today.

I don’t like to count the time. And it still hurts like hell. But I give a thousand thank-yous to the universe because he is happy and well.

A certain song will come on, and I have to move quickly to privacy before my eyes fill up and overflow.

“How is he?” asks a neighbour on the street.

And I whisper, “He’s great,” but I swiftly retreat.

I planted sunflowers today. Sunflowers take 100 days to bloom. And I am counting and crossing the calendar with kisses, because he will be home in that time.

Every time he visits, I am like a meerkat, or an impatient fox. Waiting, focused, watching the destinations board, and not moving an inch from my seat in the front row—with one eye on the security guard to see if he will notice me jump over the arrivals barrier.

My palpitating heart seems to pump out of my skin with every glide of the departure doors, and I fear a cardiac arrest on the airport floor.

And once he finally arrives, it is always the same as before.

There is not an ounce of awkwardness or strangeness. Just huge love. He runs to me. I run faster. F*ck the security guard…who just smiles anyway. We hug and laugh and wrestle and nestle into one another from the moment he gets here. We still have the same jokes, the same joy, the same strong force of togetherness that I felt the minutes after he was born—that international, global, and spiritual anchor of parenthood.

It all becomes a blur: the signature, his little wrist band, the identification. His backpack full of snacks, bouncing off his wee hips, his kisses on my lips.

“Yes, I am his mum! Just let me embrace my son!”

But on the return trip…

We move as slow as drifting seahorses. We take tiny little steps toward the Air New Zealand special assistance counter.

“Even smaller Mama,” he says.

It’s always the same late flight so he can sleep. He says, “Be brave Mum,” but I tell him I just can’t. And I can’t fight it. The tears just boil over, and my mascara runs—little black waterfalls staining my cheeks—because I am his mum.

At first, I didn’t want him to see me crumble. I wanted to hold it together so he wouldn’t worry or fret in any way. But that lasted zero seconds. Now, I tell him I don’t care if everyone in the whole damn building sees me cry because my feelings for him are as large as the ocean and my love bigger than the waves.

By the time we reach the customs gate and I can go no further, my heart is in a thousand pieces. That last look as he turns the corner—it kills me. There is no faith, no trust, no strength, and no good behaviour in that moment. We have done it a few times now, and it only gets worse, never easier.

Our goodbye is a devastation that devours me—whole, like a snake.

When some mothers find out I have let him travel so far, fear crosses their faces, and it becomes slightly uncomfortable. They wonder out loud: “How could you do such a thing? How could you let him go?”

To them, I am suddenly different.

But I am exactly the same.

I was pregnant for nine months, and I went through the same labour pain. I breastfed and bundled him up in the cold. I stayed awake all night when he was unwell. I went to play centres, and made mud pies and play dough. I pushed him in the stroller to the park under the sunshine, and sometimes the snow. We still baked cakes and built sand castles and I planned many parties and clapped my hands at every milestone.

I read him 1,000 books and made a million memories. One of our favourites was Oh the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. Well, “Just look at you now,” I say. “Hooray!”

I still don’t know how to respond to those who judge or question or criticise my decision.

I simply wanted no custody battle, no pulling or pushing him in either direction. I wanted only peace for him.

Mostly nothing works for the pain. Not even the shot of whiskey I have in my bag for emergencies. But I know that he is happy and my sacrifice is not in vain.

And somehow, when I know his plane is up high in the sky, I stumble to the last courtesy bus. And I sob and I wail and take huge gulps of the cold outside air—but that doesn’t get me anywhere. I feel extremely frail; I become the child: bewildered, wild.

Grief is a full-bodied experience. It runs through me like a raging current.

I fall into my hotel room, and I curl into a ball on the bed, on top of the fresh white sheets. Unable to unfold them. The curtains blow in the breeze, and I always stretch the windows wide open so I can be near him—by the stars. But I need night, the darkness, and then eventually the light. To grieve, to process, to put myself back together again. An emptiness devours me, like an eggshell with the yolk dispelled.

And I won’t sleep until I hear his father’s voice.

“He’s landed.”

And then I board my own domestic flight home, sobbing softly alone, under big sunglasses to hide the swollen eyelids.

But even though my body shuts down, our bond doesn’t. He is still with me everywhere. My walking, my dancing, my writing. Right there. Right here.

And even though I miss all the kid stuff so much—the marbles and knucklebones lying around, him jumping on the couch being a clown—I applaud every single one of his achievements. He is a wizard in school with wonderful grades, he gets the best parts in all of the plays, and his passport has more stamps than my own.

I am lucky that I can still talk to him nearly every day and I cheer him on every single step of the way, because he is an absolute wonder, my superhero boy-warrior.

He is brave to be away from me, and so successfully.

This heart of mine—that beats so damn strongly—can’t be wrong. Even though I have been told to fight harder, to haul him home, it’s not the answer. Yes, it cuts me like a knife, but it is simply real life, and for so many children.

I break a million times over like so many others, but we do it because we are mothers. Our love is still fierce, like flames in a fire. We feel it in every muscle, every bone under our skin, and all the rushing blood in our veins.

The last time he was here, he told me I was the perfect size to hug: not too big, not too small. And that, for me, says it all. It is everything. Motherhood is for the long haul.

Come summer, we will be on the beach and I will be the mama bear, laughing her head off, with salt and surf and a big smile on my face.
And he will be rolling toward me 100 miles an hour on his old boogie board, through the blue water. As will his sister, my daughter. We are just colourful birds flying in different directions. Humble bumblebees in separate flowers, but always coming back to each other.

Grief changes you. It can flip you over in a second, like a gust of wind. But it also fills me with protection and fearlessness. A pure divine goodness.

I am so grateful to have such love from both my children in this lifetime. They are the magic in me.

I send aroha to all those who are mothering our tamariki, from near and afar.

~

author: Larue Deluka

Image: Author's Own

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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Larue Deluka

Larue Deluka feels exotic and sometimes toxic but is learning to live in a soulful way. She likes beautiful boho things that are free, especially the sea. She loves Foxton Fizz, Frankie magazine, and Frida Kahlo, and is becoming an expert at going slow. She is a librarian aiming for a life where she grows free-range fruit and flowers in her large, overgrown garden that she can give away at her driftwood gate. Larue lives by the beach in a little place called Paekakariki, and she thoroughly enjoys a small glass of Irish whiskey. She likes to rise with the sun, and tangle poetry and prose into one, and she has just published her first novel Fish. Find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Lacey Jean Nov 13, 2018 1:50am

I don't have children, but this was heartbreakingly beautiful. You are one strong, resilient, mama. Good work!

Hilary Barber Grenier Nov 12, 2018 8:47pm

Thank you for sharing... it's like you were inside my body, mind and heart. My boy, almost 18 has been with his father for almost three years. I dint want to fight either. I wanted peace for my son. My son has had enough to bear in his short life. Your words brought me to my knees. The pain is indeed unspeakable at times to be away from my child. It does not get easier the more time that goes by. I am glad that I am not alone, and that other mothers have made the same - painful- sacrifice. Here's to our brilliant boys!

Hilary Barber Grenier Nov 12, 2018 8:47pm

Thank you for sharing... it's like you were inside my body, mind and heart. My boy, almost 18 has been with his father for almost three years. I dint want to fight either. I wanted peace for my son. My son has had enough to bear in his short life. Your words brought me to my knees. The pain is indeed unspeakable at times to be away from my child. It does not get easier the more time that goes by. I am glad that I am not alone, and that other mothers have made the same - painful- sacrifice. Here's to our brilliant boys!

Michelle Salbato Nov 9, 2018 10:40pm

Holding in tears is no fun!! I, too, tried to fight it back at the airport. I am grateful to know that I am not alone in the decision to allow my son to live with his father 1500 miles away from me. It has been two years since he's visited me, he's 15. We talk daily. My purpose supports that I was chosen to parent this way and I wouldn't ever change that. Much love for sharing your story!

Alecs Alecs Nov 9, 2018 3:52pm

I don't get it. My ex husband kidnapped my son when he was ten years old. It took me four month to find him through the International Court of Child Abduction. I spent one year in Vancouver, where I had found him, coming from the UK, trying to figure out a way to get him back. I had custody but he's half Canadian and if I had taken it to court, I could have lost him because he was settled in school. Eventually it hit me: It was all about the alimony, £300 per month. I told my ex that he didn't have to pay that and, the next day, my son and I were on a flight back home. The rest, I get. When he was 17 he left to go to university in Toronto. At first it was OK because he'd come back for all the holidays but once he started working I was lucky if I got to see him once a year. He's thirty, now, and getting married next year. He has a debt to repay to the Canadian government for his education; he has a home to eventually buy with his lovely soon-to-be wife, and then a family to raise. All before he will be financially able to sponsor me to move to Canada and enjoy the grandchildren, hopefully. So, this is my story. How you did not fight for custody or move to New Zealand is beyond my comprehension. All your other feelings I share completely and reading your essay brought tears to my eyes. Blessings.

Julia Truscott Nov 9, 2018 12:12am

Aroha x forever x

Melissa Baker Nov 8, 2018 4:28pm

This is stunning! Thank you for sharing your words and your love.

Nada Mills Nov 8, 2018 3:09am

Oh Danni I love your fierce strong love for your boy

Hiona Henare Nov 7, 2018 11:55pm

Our brave kids. Love this!

Danielle Deluka Nov 7, 2018 10:05pm

Thank you so much for reading Jennifer, we are all in this together.

Jennifer Evangelista Nov 7, 2018 9:24pm

Thank you for writing this. I can relate so entirely. Thank you