Dealing with Departure

These past few weeks have been all about gearing up for the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11, which for me as the managing editor of the Muslim content at Patheos – was a frenzy of getting coverage together and reaching out to American Muslims for their thoughts with our “Three Questions” project. But life on the home front marches on inexorably, and I’ve been dealing with back to school and the departure of my in-laws, who just left for India after spending 14 months with us.

Yes, they spent 14 months with us. And yes, it was a great time. No, really. Since my husband and I were married, his parents have been coming from India and spending long lengths of time with us. We come from a joint-family culture, and from the days of our one- or two-bedroom apartments in New York City to where we are now in a home in Virginia, we’ve shared our lives with my in-laws. And while we took some time adjusting to each other, it is a pretty great big family life.

But with each visit (but you can’t call it a visit, really. When they come, they are coming home to us), there is also a departure. And this time the departure felt more somber, more emotional, and more difficult for all of us. Perhaps it was because my kids are older now and really feel it when their grandparents leave, and they realize more (well, my middle child does) that their grandparents are getting older and what that all means.

Perhaps it was because in the past few months, different health issues came up with both Dada and Dadi (grandpa and grandma) – and that in itself is inevitable as we all age. No one’s getting younger here. Whatever it was, we all were really feeling it this past week as Dada and Dadi went through the motions of packing their suitcases, organizing their room here, and spending special time with the kids.

I often worry and wonder how their departures affect Lil D, my eldest son, the one with autism. He is nonverbal, and he is acutely attuned to my moods and the general mood of the house. I always make sure to note to his teachers when his grandparents depart, just so we can monitor if it has an effect on his behaviors.

The past few weeks have been a roller coaster – a feeling we are used to around here. Lil D has been experiencing these bouts of wailing and crying, sometimes escalating to self-injurious behavior. These tantrums often come out of nowhere. Things can be going fine, and then, BOOM! It’s like living while waiting for the bottom to drop, and it affects the whole family.

I’m pretty sure several things have been attributing to this – the two week break Lil D had between summer school ending and regular school starting (breaks are always hard – ask any autism mom), the start of school, a new bus driver/matron, and of course, the impending departure of his grandparents. We’ve done our best to stick to routines while being honest with him about what’s coming up – talking to him about his grandparents leaving. Lil D, though he cannot say, knows what is going on around him.

So Monday night, the night before my in-laws were leaving, we all sat down in our family room for some family time before the kids went to bed. Lil D generally wanders about after dinner – sometimes coming to us for cuddles, and sometimes hanging out on his own. That night, I called him to join us, and he came over and he came to his Dadi. She pulled him into his lap and they hugged. “You’re getting big,” my mother-in-law said to Lil D. “I won’t be able to do this longer!” My father-in law came in and sat next to him. Generally if there are too many people physically close to Lil D, he retreats. But this time, he laid down and put his head in his Dadi’s lap and allowed his Dada to draw his feet into his lap.

And they sat like that for a few minutes – the three of them in physical closeness. Lil D allowed himself some rare, quiet, cuddly time in the acknowledgement that he knew his grandparents were leaving, and that he was ok. So he said his nonverbal goodbyes. Who knows how the next few weeks will play out? I just know we have to give thanks for the now.

Thank Allah for the small, good moments.

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