By Nancy Soper

BUCKETS IN HAND, the boys and I set off to pick blackberries. We’re lucky enough to live near a park with lots of wild growth around the perimeter. The berry canes reached out thorny and threatening, heavy with the succulent fruit. After taking a needed taste to confirm the readiness for picking, we smiled our agreement. They were perfect. The August sun was low in the western sky, but still full of heat. We reached in to find the darkest jewels, paying no heed to the spiders guarding the plunder. Verdant, curling leaves and the fruit they partially concealed had just the lightest filament of pale dust. From the nursing home across the street, fragile ladies supported by walkers gazed longingly and remembered. How many summers had they filled buckets with treasure like ours?

The boys, James and Christopher, are two of our grandchildren. They lived with my husband Don and me for nine years until the time came for them to rejoin their mother and take up a life interrupted. They are with her now, a thousand miles away.

One morning after they left, I went running. Slipping through the cool, still air, I caught sight of blackberries. They were a beautiful palette of shades, from light green, to pink, to burgundy. I stopped and picked the darkest one. One part was sweet and pleasing, the other bitter. Sending the boys off was somewhat like that blackberry: part sweet, part bitter. With time I hope the sweetness of knowing that the boys are where they truly wish to be will overtake the bitterness of missing them.

What would be less painful—leaving the toys in the bathtub corner ledge, or putting them away and leaving a void? After all, they’ve been there for nine years. Not the same toys. We’ve gone from Pooh Bears and plastic Barneys to Batman and an assortment of action figures.

As I walk through rooms once filled with exuberant, noisy, exasperating, loveable boys, it’s not so much what they packed and took with them that I notice, it’s what they left behind—like leaving their childhood. They have sustained repeated losses and disappointments in their brief lives. The effects of their chaotic baby and toddler days have left their mark. Can these boys possibly be ready to take a leap into a relationship they remember only as monitored visits in parks and malls? Can I possibly? On one of our final nights together Chris led us in family prayer. He asked his Heavenly Father to take care of Don and me, and prayed that we would be all right with them gone. Such tender concern.

At the airport only one adult could accompany them all the way to the boarding area, so I chose to come back to the car and cry in private. I kept pushing the button on the car clock. I knew they would board first at 1:20. Are they as overwhelmed with emotion as I am? How is Don holding up with that last hug? Are they on board? Will the flight attendants know how special they are? James, so tall and seemingly self-sufficient, and Chris, always ready to charm the ladies and full of curiosity. Will the teachers at their new school treat them with respect and look for their strengths as they recognize their hidden disabilities? They have had so many transitions in their lives—no, upheavals tells it better. Will this one bring a final healing?

The plane taxied and lifted, then soared. I felt as though I had stepped into a pool and the water first lapped around my ankles. Then my knees, up to my waist, and finally I was covered—not with water but with deep loss. It washed over me, enveloping me. I couldn’t rise above it; I just surrendered and let it engulf me as it wished. The plane rose with their hopes and excitement while I sank with doubt about the wisdom of sending them to what I still viewed as an unknown.

Two weeks later Don and I drove to their new home, our van filled with possessions they would need but couldn’t squeeze into their travel bags. I didn’t realize that one could feel butterflies for that length of time. Don and I both worried that we had been perhaps pushed into making a decision without sufficient guidance. All of that long drive was punctuated with repeated sighs. Were we doing the right thing? Why hadn’t we received a defining confirmation from Heavenly Father? Does He feel like this as He sends His beloved spirit children into homes and environments He feels are less than ideal? As we entered their apartment and greeted the boys and their mother and step-father, a blanket of peace wrapped us in the knowledge that this truly was Heavenly Father’s will for each of us. It felt so right, so sweet.

Back at home, even though a testimony of the correctness of the boys returning to their mother’s care had come to me, I still felt a deep sense of loss. I tried to push my feelings away. I wanted so much to act as though things were not changed. I ran from and denied the hollowness inside. I busied myself with all sorts of menial tasks to avoid thinking. As I desperately tried to fill my mind so I could deaden the pain, a voice came into my awareness and spoke, “You’re supposed to grieve.” That made all the difference. Not only did I not have to deny my feelings, I shouldn’t. The grief was something to be experienced wholly, something to “pass through.” I’ve thought often of Eve’s admonition to Adam that it was better for them to pass through sorrow that they might know the good from the evil. I know that all of life’s experiences have things to teach us, and we must cherish those lessons.

I don’t know how long it will take to pass through this. I also wonder if I will have the heart to pick blackberries alone this season.

About Nancy Soper

Nancy and her husband Don are the parents of four children and thirteen grandchildren, with another grandchild soon to arrive. Nancy has been teaching school since 1985, third through sixth grade. This will be her last year teaching as she is planning on serving a mission with her husband. She enjoys painting, sewing, and walking early in the morning.

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