I sat across from my friend and watched him wipe a tear from his eye. We had just sat down in the coffee shop where my youngest son works as a barista. My son had greeted me as soon as we walked in the door with the usual bear hug, which had apparently restarted the flow of tears in my friend. Just 48 hours earlier he had been moving his oldest daughter into her dorm room, where he had built a special headboard for her bed out of an old wooden gate, making the room feel just that much homier. The university where she was starting is not in another state, nor even another city -- it is just a few miles from where her family lives. But the close proximity didn't change the fact that this was the end of an era in this close family, and the dad was feeling it acutely.
My misty-eyed friend went on to tell me what an incredible influence his daughter had had on the family, how she brightened the home with her cheerful outlook, her encouraging words and pure joie de vivre. My mind immediately flashed back to the day I dropped our oldest son off at university in a city two hours away. And then, two years later, putting our second son on a plane for Switzerland as he began his gap year after high school. And then, three years later, putting our third son on a plane for Hong Kong and mainland China for five months.
It obviously hurts so deeply because the love we share is so great. That we have been given the gift of such a close bond is not something to be taken for granted. Even though all three of our sons are now adults and -- believe it or not -- all live within ten minutes of us now, my heart was immediately taken back to the emotions of those initial separations. The end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
There is no other ache like it, and neither I nor my friend would trade it for the world.