I’ve never been one to be completely comfortable with my emotions but recently I have been forced to feel them. When I walked into my 6 year old niece’s room a few nights ago, as she experienced probably her first deep feeling of pain and sadness, I immediately broke down. We were leaving to go home to Detroit the following morning after our surprise two week trip home to Ireland. And for the first time in her short life, the distance between the best Uncle and Aunt in the world (her words not mine, but who am I to argue?) had finally ambushed her.
The hints had been there for a few days.
The “I’m going to miss you” comments become more frequent. The “I wish you could be here forever” moments start to take over. “Soak it all in” was uttered by Brittany more and more.
We had come to the end of a truly wonderful trip home for Christmas in which we surprised my Mum. Two years since our last trip home had been full with Skyping and sending videos and audio messages but like Mayuri told us, you can only talk on Skype and that is boring. Boring it may be, but knowing that if we were alive 50 years earlier, the separateness would have been more intensely felt.
The advantages of being alive in this moment means we get to watch my niece grow up despite living thousands of watery miles between us. We aren’t that distant Uncle and Aunt that she has only heard of in stories or anecdotes. We can speak and see each other, at any moment. This then allows us, when we do have the opportunity to physically see each other on a trip to not have to spend time getting to know strangers but to immediately enjoy the ability to hug and enjoy the closeness that is only possible when physically in the same place.
There is great joy and excitement in this. These are the “good” emotions we get to experience when we are finally able to see each other.
Though with the ease that we can see each other and the relative inexpensiveness and quickness of travel across the Atlantic ocean these days, comes some “negative” consequences.
Because the joy of physically being with loved ones who live thousands of miles away, must inevitably come to an end, sooner or later. The hours of building Lego and forts together, of teaching her how to do the Floss, of seeing her own unique humour and fun come out in unexpected ways, always ends.
The realisation towards the end of our trip, that I won’t be able to just randomly hug my Niece at any moment, begins to dawn on me.
Just appreciating the moment is hard, precisely because I know that these moments are limited.
But as it turns out, these “negative” emotions are important. Necessary, even.
Because without them, there can be no joy. Joy only exists because of the sadness.
We like to see these as opposites; two sides battling for superiority over the other. Only one can end up on top, but this doesn’t work.
Because the sadness and grief of being separated only exist because we’ve experienced so much joy. If we didn’t experience this deep joy and fun of being with the ones we love most, there would be no sadness to leave them.
The sadness of leaving each other, can only exist if we enjoy building amazing memories.
The ability to build these fantastic memories can only exist if we understand, leaving is going to hurt like hell.
As Brittany and I return to our normal lives in Detroit and we prepare as best as we can to foster, I suspect that we will have more opportunities to practice this. Maybe our trip home will turn out not just to be a surprise for my Mum, but for us also. A pre cursor to a lesson we will soon learn.
Because as we foster, we know that the child that we welcome and love and provide security and peace for even just a short while, may not be around forever.
We know on at least some level, that there may be intense grief and mourning as a child we have loved is reconciled with their family. This is how it should be. But it will still hurt deeply.
But it will only hurt deeply if we experience the deep joy of fostering, that I imagine and hope we will feel. The laughter and fun and structure we hopefully provide to someone who has maybe never experienced this in their life will determine the grief we experience when they go home.
So we have a choice to hold back and not give our full love to someone. To protect ourselves from the pain that may come by not being present in the joy of each moment with our foster child anymore.
Or we can give everything, pursue the joy completely and recklessly and know that the more we do, the deeper and anguish full the pain we’ll experience, if they leave us.
I don’t say all this to show how wonderful or amazingly selfless we are as humans but to let you know that I really wish this wasn’t true. I wish the more joy we feel, didn’t mean that the pain will also increase.
I want to not really care, honestly.
But as I think about our trip back home and the fun and fullness we had with family and friends, I wouldn’t swap that for anything. Is it worth having these wonderful, beautiful yet rare experiences to witness in my niece’s inconsolable crying eyes the unbearable sadness her young mind can’t completely comprehend?
It is. It sucks that it is. But it is.
So I’d rather be incredibly sad. Because I know if I am, then Joy can’t be that far away.