In this phase of my life, I find myself a space holder.
It’s a sacred job, one many don’t really think about much.
It doesn’t involve lots of yapping or fussing. Instead, you are a quiet presence. Many times, a patient presence in the face of their storm of emotion. And always, a loving and loyal presence. They need to know you’re not going anywhere.
When my mother was dying in hospice, she needed a space holder. Someone on this side of the fine line that separates us humans from the great ethereal shroud she approached but couldn’t see the other side of yet. Someone who would not hold her here but was firmly here. Affirming that she existed, here or there. Someone solid. Someone quiet. Someone who would not fuss but would sit with love. Hold good intentions for her with love. Let her go with love.
During the last year of my father’s life, he needed a space holder. A compass to give some rhythm to his days and nights. A caretaker. Someone who would hold his space in the world, even as he began to retreat from it. Someone to affirm his importance in a part of the world where the elderly are treated as anything but that. My sister did this with grace, day after day.
During my divorce and the aftermath, I found myself holding space for my children. I was an anchor. They were the boats. And I needed to give them as much tethered space as they required, while remaining rock steady. Holding space for them as individuals and us as a family. Letting them know, quietly, that despite the incredible upheaval in our lives, life continued. And some things would never, ever change—like my love for them. My drive to keep us afloat.
As I drove my son to his graduation dance this evening, I realized that this milestone, this leaving of middle school and childish things, requires me to again hold space for someone I love.
As I dropped him off, he had to (as usual) run back to the car twice to get things he’d forgotten. A borrowed suit jacket that needed to be returned to its owner. A sleeping bag for the sleepover that followed.
I watched him take the stairs up to the second floor two at a time. He ran, gleefully, familiarly, toward a night of dancing, pizza and games. With friends he has had now since fourth grade. His school, with just 32 children per grade, is one of close-knit relationships. And wonderful kids. Truly wonderful. I was happy he was getting the chance to make these memories.
And yet. Oh, and yet. I am left holding space. Occupying the space between his childhood and his manhood. Along with his gleeful bound up the stairs comes a still childlike love of Nerf wars and s’mores. But, encroaching more and more are hairy armpits, amped-up lacrosse practices where he is expected to man up and train like one, and grades that colleges will ponder for better or for worse.
I hold the middle space for him, allowing him to be childlike when necessary but coaxing a maturity I see he will need sooner than he knows.
It was the childlike bounding, the entering of a school so familiar and welcoming that he treats it as a home, the friendly shout from a classmate, the smile from a teacher, that did me in.
After he left the car and I could no longer see him, the tears flowed.
Holding space means you can’t quite go forward. But you know you can’t go back either. You must stay in the ever-changing present.
It is a tough juxtaposition, knowing the current rhythm and comfort of your days is soon to be disrupted by a seismic shift. Knowing that you’ll look back on this time fondly. Knowing that while the days can be very long, the years go by quickly.
I see what he can’t yet see. And I’m willing to hold space for him so he doesn’t have to see it quite yet. I see how much he’ll miss what he’s leaving behind. And how much he has in front of him, good and bad. No matter how much, as a mother, I hope for the former, I know life mixes the two in a cocktail of its own choosing.
So I hold the space in between, allowing him to flit back and forth between the past and the future. Space holders make the present a warm, loving place to be. It’s a job I’m getting more used to doing. To be honest, I’m usually a space filler. I’m not all that quiet, not all that unassuming, not all that vanilla. And yet, space holders are usually filled with a quiet strength.
Here’s to all of you who are holding sacred space for someone you love right now. Whether they’re soon to depart this world, a phase of life or just embarking on a fantastic journey, your very quiet role means the world.
Or so I’ve been told. By a couple of very wonderful souls who are no longer here.
I’ll take their word for it.