gift of play

Rearranging my Life after Goodbyes

summer swimtime fun!

It’s been quite the summer. We’ve prayed over secrets and said more goodbyes than hellos.

A few weeks ago I told a friend that I’ve sat on so many of my kids’ secrets this summer that I had trouble remembering what information was classified from whom. Sometimes I wasn’t sure which one needed prayers the most.

Recently I told Rebekah that maybe we just have too many kids. (There’s an event at VT that she wants us to attend the same weekend we’ll be visiting Ben in Colorado.)

Dave reading
Storytime with Papa

Then there is this thing of saying goodbye. Goodbyes mean that I have to rearrange my life. Just when I become comfortable with the way things are, along comes another goodbye.

I’m a little like my mama was when we wanted to rearrange furniture. She liked things just the way they were and saw no need for change. If it worked this way, why not leave it? Her philosophy (minus incorrect grammar) was: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

My sisters and I wanted variety. We said she might like it, and You’ll never know until you try! She didn’t appreciate the time it took to rearrange things or the upheaval of trying to find places for the disheveled pieces left when we were done! (Mama does get credit, however, for releasing three of her daughters to men or to ministry in Canada, Nebraska and Virginia as well as cheerfully rearranging her life as each of her girls left home.)

Now that I’m nearing the big 6-0, I’m there, too. I rather like things to stay the same. My kids don’t see it that way; so I’m kept busy praying over their activities and rearranging and finding places for their stuff. In addition, I’ve helped move them home and assisted their packing to get ready for the next leg of their journey. Sometimes I sit down at the end of the day and say, Whew!

"And how was your day?!"
“And how was your day?!”

We knew this would be the summer we said goodbye to a house full of kids.

one can never give too many hugs
one can never give too many hugs

We had one son moving west (one of those secrets while those Phone and Skype and They’re-Gonna-Fly-Me-Out-There interviews were being completed).

I tried to prepare myself to say goodbye to my oldest and my three youngest: two college girls and my high school senior. Plus, soon we’d be bidding farewell to the little nuggets who had wrapped their tentacles around our hearts for over a year.

That goodbye was coming first and would probably be the hardest because of its permanence.

Tim with K in truck
Tim gives one final ride in his truck.

Suffice it to say that the longer we love, the harder it is to say goodbye. The more we invest, the stronger the chords. We invested time and energy, especially in those first weeks when nighttime kept us awake for hours. Each bleary morning as I poured coffee, I wished for just one good night of sleep. I’m just too old for this, I’d say to the morning dew as I sipped my coffee on the deck. I survived. Even though they weren’t ours to keep, we claimed them as ours and they surely claimed us. Now we had to say goodbye.

The evening before, Tim came by to give them each one more ride in his truck. He hung around afterward for a long time.

On goodbye day, we packed their clothes, their toys, and their books. We filled another bag with blankets and homemade pillowcases. A deck party was planned, and we had invited friends for supper.

Mid-afternoon as we surveyed our not-so-clean house and their so-very-many-things-pile we had amassed, Sarah Beth commented, “Maybe it wasn’t such a good an idea to have company for supper.”

“Oh, by tonight you’ll be glad we did,” I replied.

We said tearful goodbyes. We hugged and kissed and waved as they drove away for the last time.

Then we went inside and finished company preparations. Instead of whining about our loss, we reminisced with our friends and shared our pain in saying goodbye. Instead of feeling alone, we leaned directly into our pain and felt supported because we were surrounded by friends who had loved them intensely as well.

Little helpers: peeling apples to make apple dumplings

A few days later, Sarah Beth and I headed “home” to Maryland.  We knew our house would be empty and quiet without little feet pitter-pattering and little hands pestering to help in the kitchen.  Plus, life wasn’t going to get any easier if we sat around feeling sorry for ourselves.

As always, it was cooler in Maryland. I failed to take a jacket, so I went to Mama’s bedroom closet to find a sweater. The gray sweater fits and still smelled like Mama, even though it had that musty odor of unworn clothes hanging in a closet.

Stuffing my hands in the pockets, I found two cough drops, three handkerchiefs, and three toothpicks.

my mama’s sweater

Finding these items in her pockets was no surprise; this was my mama. I can still see her with that toothpick in her mouth after a meal; remember us begging her to use tissues instead of a handkerchief when she had a cold; hear that gravel in her throat when she had a winter cold and cough.

I hugged the sweater to myself and went to visit my friend Pam. After my massage, I decided that before I feel inclined to go for counseling for depression, I’ll opt to get a massage. Pam listens to a lot of secrets as she massages weary muscles and tissues, and secrets are safe with her. We talked about the therapy she gives by listening and by caring. I think having someone to talk to helps alleviate depression. Really, I’d be getting plenty of bang for my bucks!

Pam secret's safe
the note on the wall in Pam’s massage room

[I am not saying counseling is never necessary; at times getting Christian, professional help is the best way to go. I’m saying that if we’d be more willing to share the cries of our heart with others, and if we’d be more open to bearing each other’s burdens and could be counted on for your-secret’s-safe-with-me, we might need fewer counseling sessions down the road].

On the way home, I visited the graveyard. The sun was kinder on this late June day than it had been that cold, blustery day we trudged the shoveled path to bury our mama.

Age: 3 years, 1 day

With summer rays beaming on the graves, I reckoned (again) that I can never understand the pain my half-siblings experienced when they buried a little sister and, exactly one year later, their mother.

I reckoned that I had no concept of the grief and burden my mother bore when she buried our father.

Only five, I didn’t understand the pain of her loss nor the view on her horizon as she faced unknown widowed-years ahead.

Standing there in the graveyard I thanked God for the heritage I possess. It is mine, not because of anything I’ve done, but because of the choices made by others, and because He is God.

Saying goodbye is never easy. In our grief, there are poignant reminders that stir us along the way. We can try to slam the door on our grief and our goodbyes, or we can lean into the pain. I have learned that leaning into the pain instead of avoiding it brings healing, as well as hope.

one of my mama's cape dresses
one of my mama’s cape dresses
VT quilt
the VT quilt in the making

Soon after her death four winters ago, my sisters and I spent an afternoon sorting through Mama’s dresses. We chose some for ourselves and our daughters; then we then donated the rest for missions. The dresses I had chosen were still hanging in her closet and my plan was to finally do something with these dresses.

While I was tearing out seams in Mama’s dresses, Sarah Beth cut patches from her Virginia Tech t-shirts. And my dear sister Katharine, who spends more time helping others than doing her own things, revved up her sewing machine and joined the fray.

my sister Katharine
my sister Katharine
the pile of dresses
the pile of dresses

My sister Barbara wandered into the dining room and helped diminish the pile of dresses that needed to be taken apart. (There was a method to my madness in coming home to Grantsville for this project!) As we ripped seams and sewed seams, I learned things about my father (who said goodbye to us fifty-four years ago) and his preference of colors.

The next morning I picked blueberries next to the playhouse we played in as kids. My children spent hours in that playhouse yard; now great-grandchildren are making memories with the sandbox, the playhouse, and the swing. Every time I walk through that Playhouse yard, I wax nostalgic and wish, for a moment, that I could be a child again when goodbyes are less frequent and poignant. I brought the blueberries and memories back to Virginia with me.

the playhouse, swing, and sandbox – my childhood classroom in creativity

Nostalgia seems to surprise me at unexpected bends. . . .

At first, we thought she was a child’s dolly.
Sarah Beth holds the 6-week old baby
Sarah Beth holds the 6-week old baby

Stopping at a roadside stand to purchase peaches, we were surrounded by barefoot children whose mother allowed us to hold their baby sister (child number ten).

Their innocence was a pure delight and they were fascinated by our purses and cell phones.

You don’t know how blessed you are, I wanted to tell them, thinking of our nuggets who had said goodbye and returned to a seemingly less safe world so unlike this one.

these children and I have the same ancestors
these children and I have the same ancestors


Amish children
“barefoot boys with cheeks of tan”

We brought our sister Katharine back with us so she could fly to Canada for a visit. (It’s a long story: we brought her south to fly north. We took advantage of having her with us, especially since we got up at 3AM to get her to the airport before I had to go to work.)

On our way home from Maryland, we stopped in Harrisonburg and spent part of a day, along with others, helping Dave’s sister Rhoda move. After all the furniture was moved (including The Monstrosity, as Dave referred to the piece that took six people to load), we unpacked the kitchen boxes and decided where we thought Rhoda wanted her kitchen items.

Between our homecoming and Katharine’s flight, my sister Rhoda was admitted to ICU; we wondered if another goodbye was coming our way. Perhaps it wasn’t wise to go south to go north? (She is doing okay now but we’re still waiting on word about the possibility of heart surgery).

moving the monstrosity
moving the monstrosity

When we got home from our Maryland journey it was our turn to finalize plans for the Slabach annual reunion at Camp Tuk-Away near Blacksburg, Virginia. The rainy weekend didn’t deter folks from coming or having fun.

This reunion was especially significant for our family. On the final day of the reunion, we hugged our oldest goodbye. Ben was going back to Richmond and then heading west in forty-eight hours.

That weekend Jason told his siblings that he was working in the Ebola unit at Emory Hospital in Atlanta (another secret Dave and I prayed about but couldn’t share).


From the reunion, Sarah Beth left us to go to Atlanta with Jason and Katie before flying back to Richmond to ride to Colorado with Ben. It was one of those Whew! goodbye days.

Sb and Ben in CO
siblings at the end of their journey

Nine days later we picked Sarah Beth up at the airport, and then she and I picked grapes. Grape juice, pickles, and packing were on the agenda for the day.

Canned pickles, tomato juice, peaches, grape juice, and green beans filled my counter top and stayed there for two weeks until I had time to make room and organize the basement shelves.

goodbye at VT
another goodbye

Two days later we said goodbye to Sarah Beth (heading east to Richmond). The following morning we took Rebekah and Aaron northwest to Virginia Tech. We unloaded furniture and belongings, drove to Jimmy John’s for lunch, and said goodbye.

From there I joined other women heading to a retreat. It was another one of those Whew! days. When I got back Saturday evening, the house was tidy and clean. For the first time in twenty-eight years, it was just the two of us. I have said enough goodbyes for now that mean rearranging my life!

We like the change of pace, the quiet house. Yet it doesn’t mean we’ve done our time or that it’s time to retire.

We will never be done praying for our kids and their future. Plus, there are other children to love and teach, youth to rub shoulders with, young folks to mentor, older folks to visit, and neighbors to feed.

home, sweet childhood home
home, sweet childhood home

Going back to my childhood home and then coming home helps me realize again how much I have been given. Therefore, much is required. (Luke 12:48)

My friend and mentor Rhoda was chided for wearing herself out babysitting other people’s grandchildren. She and her husband babysat entire weekends for couples so they could get away to rejuvenate their marriages.

“This is Kingdom work,” she said. “I’d rather wear out doing Kingdom work than wear out for any other reason.”

For that reason, and for this season, we’re not done. Although the goodbyes have been said and we spend more time praying over our kids than being with them in person, we’re not done.

We’ll never be done being parents (and keeping secrets and saying goodbye).


As long as we’re here on this earth, we’ll never be done with Kingdom work. For this reason and for this season, I will keep rearranging my life.

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