I’m awake. It’s 4 a.m. Just 45 minutes ago, I heard the garage door open and close for the last time at this ungodly hour. I ran downstairs to give and get a hug from our youngest.

You see, tonight was the night of nights. After a final dinner celebrating our two graduates, Rachel and her best friend did what they always do. They drove around enjoying our sleepy little town and the surrounding area, talking about all those things BFFs talk about. This was their last time to do that as neighbors who’ve known each other (and been mostly inseparable) since they were just six years old. That’s why it’s an ungodly hour.

I don’t blame them. It’s really hard to say goodbye.

After crying and hugging when she came in, and clinging to her (and secretly wishing I never had to let go), she went to sleep in her childhood bed for one more dreamy night. After trying to venture back into my own fitful sleep, I gave up and decided to process just a tiny bit of the swirling emotions coursing through my very bones.

You see, today is the day of days. I begin the long goodbye of driving my precious Rachel across the country to her new life on the other coast in Burbank, California. 2,764 miles from our house to her new apartment. That’s really far. We leave in just 11 hours.

When she burst on the scene 19 years and 10 months ago, I never fathomed the ache I would hold in my heart this morning. The proud and painful and thankful and joyful and awful ache.

It’s the universal mom ache that comes every time we say goodbye.

It starts when our babies take their first toddling and tentative steps away from us. That initial ache comes unbidden as we grasp a glimpse of all the future steps they will take away from us, all the goodbyes to come.

The goodbye of walking onto a school bus or into a classroom for the very first time. Tiny hands turn and wave. The ache rears and settles.

The goodbye of a first sleepover or summer camp. They are not “right in the next room” safe under the cover of our home. The ache rears quietly and settles quickly.

The goodbye of their very independent “I’ve got this” preteen self. This one smacks loud and jolts abruptly. The ache rears ferociously and settles slowly.

The goodbye of a challenging teen mishap. Their childhood innocence door slams shut. The ache rears dragging fear along with it and settles in fits and starts.

The goodbye of backing out of the driveway moments after receiving freedom in the shape of a gift from the DMV. The ache rears with memories of a toddler in her car seat and settles with some much-needed freedom from late-night, seemingly endless pickups.

The goodbye of a graduation cap and a college dorm room. Stopping here for a moment. This one was really rough for me. This ache rears and settles, rears and settles, rears and settles, every time they come home and leave, come home and leave, come home and leave.

The goodbye I find myself in this morning.

The goodbye of moving out and moving on. The goodbye that speaks to adulthood, active parenting job done, “Will they make it on their own?” This ache rears fresh and raw this morning. I am hopeful it will settle.

There are more goodbyes to come. The goodbye of weddings and births of grandchildren (I’ve experienced those with my oldest and she is experiencing her own goodbyes now). Every time, the steps are further and further away. Every time, the ache rears and rears and rears. Every time, the ache settles and settles and settles.

I know that with each goodbye comes a settling hello. A settling hello that brings newness, possibility, and life. Believe me, I know.

But in the wee hours of this morning, I sit in the real, raw ache of the goodbye, not rushing the pride I feel, the pain I feel, the thankfulness I feel, the joy I feel and the awfulness I feel.

It’s beautiful here. It’s sacred here. It’s momentous here.

The sun is not up yet. I sit quiet in the dark. The ache will settle soon enough. I like the ache for now. It’s my very good friend.

Author’s note: To those of you who have said the worst goodbye in the loss of your child, I am just so sorry. I wonder if there is ever a settling after the ugly rearing of the ache. It’s okay if there’s not. Maybe there shouldn’t be. Either way, I wholeheartedly salute you. I stand with you. I sit with you. I am just so very sorry. You never should have had to say this kind of goodbye.

Originally published on the author’s blog

You may also like:

Motherhood is Letting Go, Over and Over Again

Dear Teenagers, Be Patient While I Let Go

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, it’s Time To Say Goodbye

Esther Goetz

I am a wife to Allen for almost 28 years. I am a mom to four unique children aged 19-26, a mother-in-law to one and a grandmother to one cute little boy. I live in a sleepy, little town called Stirling, NJ. My true heart’s desire is to be a hope-bringer to women as we navigate this adventure of life together.