Noone ever prepares you for what life is going to be like while your child gets ready to serve a mission and then leaves for 2 full years. They don’t tell you how there will be heinous arguments that you will both regret having later ... you because you didnt know his actions were stemming from the fears and frustrations of what he was about to embark upon, and his because he will soon come to understand that you were acting out of love and protection, as a mother does. Either way, both of us come out of it ... down the road.... with a better understanding of what went on in the months preceding your mission, and we both have regrets for wasting our time together, arguing, over things that would all work themselves out in the end.
Noone tells you that sending a son away for 2 years would feel like your life has been turned upside down. That your heart will ache so much that you can hardly breathe most days. Or that it is a grieving process. It isnt like sending a child to college who you can call, email daily, call daily if you want, text several times a day even. This child doesnt feel like they are anything more than across town. They come home for breaks and holidays, unlike my missionary who is 8800 miles away... everyone one of those miles I feel in the marrow of my bones. My son can email me briefly on mondays when he has 1 hour to use the computer. A small amount of time if you consider that has to also email his mission president first. Not leaving a whole lot of time for a letter to Mom or one to his siblings. Think about how fast an hour goes while you are emailing family, browsing pinterest, gaming on pogo, interacting on facebook, or just browsing the web. I get it. I’ve timed it. You sure don’t have a lot of time to get much of anything done in a mere 60 minutes online. And that 60 minutes goes so much quicker when we are both online and chatting back and forth through short 2 lined email messages... most of the time spent waiting for another email to pop up. There are only 2 phone calls a year. One for Christmas, one for Mothers Day. International calls are expensive and everyone wants a chance to talk. They are never long enough, you never get to say everything you want to, and you can only hope you said something that will stick with them and get them through until the next allowed phone call. There are no trips home for breaks or holidays.
Noone tells you how your son leaving tears each member of your family apart in different ways. Starting with Mom, who has loved this child from the day she knew of his conception. Roughly 20 years by the time he leaves for his mission. Mom, has to be a pillar of strength and put on a happy face. Its not so easy when you have spent everyday of this childs life with him, caring for, watching over, and protecting him. A mother whose life is wrapped up in her children. She worries, hoping beyond all else that she has given him enough... maybe not everything, but at least enough... that will get him through whatever comes before him. For months, I spent walking around feeling broken, like a large part of me was missing. In private I would spend hours crying, grieving in a way, not knowing how I would get through 2 years of feeling like this. Too fresh in my mind were the arguments we had. Too vivid were the memories of his departure day... the pain and anguish on all of our faces as we cried uncontrollably in the airport. I hurt for all of us.... Myself, My Missionary, his brothers and sister. For weeks after I would find myself unable to go to sleep at night, watching the clock waiting for him to come home from work. I knew he wouldnt, but this was our life. I would wait up, he would come upstairs whisper, “Mom, Im Home. Goodnight. I Love You.” You’re heart just aches as you yearn for that head to pop around the door frame and those words to whisper through the air. For months I tried to put on a happy face, withdrawing into myself. That’s a mothers way you know... make everything look pretty from the outside anyway.
The kids at home all take it hard in their own way. His brother ... his best friend... his confidant... his lifeline... now gone... is left floundering and not knowing how to stand on his own. Its hard for him and he struggles, lashes out at everyone, and rebels. His little sister, a quite soul herself, follows moms lead and internalizes everything, writhing in her own personal hell. She hides it well too, until her grades start slipping and her attention to detail is greatly decreased. She grieves her brother who is on a mission, but also grieves her brother who has shut out his family. She lost not one brother, but both of her big brothers, all at once. The baby brother doesnt quite understand where Africa is, how long 2 years is, and that his big brother isnt coming home for a very long time. He seems virtually unphased until there is a moment, and he has some understanding that his brother is not here and he misses him.... and he cries. As each of the children have to find their way to compensate, as a mother, I suffer the pain of each of the children as well as my own.
Before his mission, we all worked extra hard to make quick memories, mostly for the sake of the little kids, as they don’t have as many as the rest of us. Noone tells you how they will come back and bite you, tear at your heartstrings, and remind you why you miss him. I have always heard that its really hard for these young men to leave their homes and families. I know my son was anxious, afraid, worried, and also had a time where he too missed each of us and home. But soon enough, his attentions are filled with routine for his day, the Lords work, and he is always filled with the spirit... comforted... and so close to the lord that he quickly is able to press forward. Sending a missionary is so much harder on the people left behind. We miss your laughter in the house. Your seat is empty at the dinner table. Our world.... our home... you have ever been a part of it, and there is an emptiness where your vibrance is missing.
Noone explains to you either that it takes about 6 months for this odd grieving process to run its course. We are all doing better. Mom is better focused, has pulled up her big girl pants and is pushing forward. There is much to do, and 18 months is really a short time in the grand scheme of things. The brother is finding his footing and realizing that he is not alone. That his big brother is ever with him and has given him the love and tools he needs to be just fine and make his way as well. The sister talks to a counselor at school when she feels she needs to, and is doing better focusing, resulting in her grades coming up. The baby brother.... still generally unphased but has grasped the fact that his brother doesnt live at home anymore, and that Africa is not a place just down the street from the grocery store.
My Missionary... well he is doing wonderful. He loves the people he is serving. He loves the country he is in, and is having so many wonderful experiences. He is growing... mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. When I pick him up from the airport, I will be greeting a man, not the boy I put on that plane. I suppose that is why we grieve our missionaries leaving. We are saying goodby to our little boys, knowing they will come back to us, changed forever by their opportunity and experience.
As every other family of a missionary, we will wait with baited breath for every monday’s e-mail. The 2 allotted phone calls a year, and desperately search the mailbox in hopes for a letter than had been handwritten on whatever paper our missionary could find. We will miss him everyday. We will Love him with all our hearts. We will be proud for him and the strength and fortitude he has to go to a country so different from the life he has known, and not only serve the people, but openly love and accept them, as the Savior has asked of us. The Lord has called him to serve, for a mere two years of his earthly life...and has given us the rest. This is what helps me get through the tough days... The knowledge of the Gospel, and that one day soon, he will be home, and that we have the blessing of being an eternal family.
By CMB Johnson 4/16/2012
Elder Gabriel Tanner Michael Long
Currently Serving in South Africa