I think I was in 6th grade when I last felt something like I am right now. Caron Gokey was the kind of friend that everyone wanted to be around. She was fun and spunky and totally confident in who she was. She wore Laura Ingalls-like braids and made them look cool. And I specifically remember belting out a bedroom mirror duet of Prince’s “1999” with hair-brush microphones and costumes of some sort. When I was around Caron, I forgot my troubles and just had fun. Then came the day she told us she was moving. All my friends were sad. I remember being among a group of weeping girls in school, all feeling like it was unfair. It was a deep sadness that I hadn’t ever encountered. I’d had friends move before that and I was sad about it but this was especially sad because everyone felt the loss and because Caron was a ray of sunshine. No one wanted her to leave.
I never saw her again. I don’t even remember where she moved to anymore. We may have written a letter or two but distance faded the friendship and I was left with a few fond memories.
I’m thinking about Caron today because I’m watching my kids navigate the loss of their friends who moved to Phoenix last weekend. The loss of our friends, really. I miss them all too. Sometimes you lose a friend to a move, but it’s a rare occasion when you lose eight friends at once. Yet that’s how it feels with this family because each member has been such a ray of sunshine in our lives.
The Burns family (whom my 15yr old renamed “The Burnsai” because how else would you pluralize “Burns”?) lived in our area for three years but it was really only this last year that we got to know them. Jen and I had tried to schedule a couple of family get-togethers yet they had always fallen through. But in the first week of January 2012 we were on the calendar and our families were finally going to hang out together. Until I got the flu and we had to reschedule again and with a family of 6 trying to match up schedules with a family of 8, that took almost two months. So it was the end of February when we first got together and what I noticed immediately after they left that night was that we had finally found a family that everyone in my family loved to be with. That doesn’t happen often. My kids range from 8-17 so finding another local family where everyone has someone to hang out with is extremely rare. (The Burnsai kids range from 8-16.) From that night my kids started begging for another get-together and Jen told me her kids did too. We began scheduling more Burnsai visits and everyone looked forward to those nights. My kids don’t agree on many things. Other than their awesome parents, grandparents, etc. I can really only think of three things they all love: Pizza, Tacos and the Burnsai. I fully expected to have those three things in our lives for at least the next few years. Sigh.
So when they told me they were moving to Arizona to be closer to Jen’s extended family, I was stunned. It just felt too soon. Quietly, I was devastated because I was losing a precious friend and so were my kids. But what amazed me was the number of people with those same sentiments once the move was widely known. I’ve never seen anything like it. Our entire circle of friends was devastated. It was like Caron Gokey times a hundred!
From the time we found out they were leaving, our oldest five kids spent as much time together as possible. Someone said, “Why would you do that? You’ll just make it harder when it’s time to say goodbye.” That’s probably true. But I told my kids then and I still believe it now, after the horrific goodbyes, that I’d rather they love deeply and hurt deeply than keep themselves from loving to avoid the pain.
More than once I heard Jen say she felt like she was attending her own wake. It did feel like that. My daughter, “Seventeen” said the other day, “Mom, I just lost my three best friends.” This from a girl who doesn’t really talk about how she feels and certainly never cries, yet I’ve seen more tears from her this week than I have in five years. A number of our friends spent the weekend together before the family left early Monday morning. Have you ever been in a room where sixteen kids were weeping and hugging and saying goodbye? Take it from me. It’s overwhelming and heart-wrenching but incredibly sweet at the same time.
So, how do you help your kids deal with life realities like this? People move. It’s part of life. But telling a teenager “That’s just the way it is,” doesn’t really work. I’m trying to help them walk the balance between encouraging their friends in their new adventure and being real about how much they miss them. It’s okay for them to be sad. It’s okay for them to mourn the loss of the time they’re used to spending together. They’re also mourning the loss of their expectations. They expected to continue getting together a couple times a week. They expected to have each other’s company at church and youth group each week. They expected to celebrate birthdays together. Now they have to find a new normal as long distance friends. But that’s not impossible.
A friend said to me, “We may be losing them as neighbors but not as friends.” That’s true. The world is a very different place than it was when Caron Gokey moved. We didn’t have cell phones, text messages, Facebook or even internet then. (Yes, I’m old.) So while this definitely changes the friendship, it doesn’t end it. I may not have five teens sitting on my couch a couple nights a week (sniff) but we get daily video messages and Seventeen and I have a new destination for our mother-daughter trip this summer after she graduates. I am truly grateful for the time we’ve had together as families, even if it was only for a short time. And who knows what the future holds…maybe we’ll end up in the same town again some day. For now, I guess we will just settle for more pizza and tacos.