Back in the olden days, children would leave home and never come back. Sometimes they would get on a ship and sail to another continent. Their parents would kiss them goodbye and never see them again. There might have been letters; but often, people just disappeared into another life, and left the old one behind. Or, sometimes folks were forced to leave the farm to go to faraway cities for work, and they came back after their parents had died, to dispose of the land and the house, looking at acres that once flourished, but went wild as their parents aged and stopped caring for them. I have been reading a lot of books with this as the theme, and I cannot imagine the strength that these people had. How leave-takings were often permanent, and everyone knew it. So there was the hug, the holding back of tears, and the emptiness of years ahead, just remembering and wondering how absent loved ones were, if they were happy, or even still alive.

My first daughter and her two children live across the country. Every time we say goodbye, I feel like one of those old-time grandmothers, watching her children as they walk away from her, insides churning with the pain of separation.

I walk around my own house on a January morning, and I see this picture of the two of those children so dear to me, and my heart empties out. I cheer myself up by noting the weeks on the calendar before I see them again, and it helps. I try to visit them at least every three months. It is not enough. I envy the grandparents whose grandchildren live a short drive away. I wish I could just pick up the phone and say casually to my daughter, “Do you want to come over for dinner on Sunday with the kids?”

But then I think again about those grandmothers who waved their handkerchiefs at ships with their children lined up on the deck, sailing into the unknown, hoping for a better life, or those parents who loaded their children on to trains to take them out of Germany just before the Nazis marched in, and I celebrate my good fortune that there are airplane schedules and FaceTime.

I am very fortunate. But my heart doesn’t always agree.

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