We have similar feelings when our children enter Grammar School and then leave High School. As they tackle different classes, sports, and the arts, make and break friendships, learn to drive, begin to date, have jobs, cry their own tears in frustration and inevitable heartbreaks, we hold them close and simultaneously let them go. It becomes clearer and clearer that they are NOT us, that their lives hold and will continue to hold different challenges, different pains, different gifts. They can't relive our lives; they have to live their own. And if we want them to survive and succeed, we have to let them go to be themselves. How many tears do we shed now! Many more than when they were little: tears of worry, joy, pride, even relief or grief.
As they drive, take the bus or plane away to college, our leave-takings are even more grief-stricken. The house seems so empty without them; ghosts of little children running laughing through the rooms simultaneously cheer us and fill us with a sense of loss. Those days will never come again. And yet - who is this marvelous young adult who returns on visits? A friend now, as much as one's child. Someone who asks penetrating questions, can hold deep discussions, can begin to see you as an individual in your own right, not "just" Mom or Dad.
Through these years so full of pain and grace, perhaps a spouse stands by you. Sitting up late to nurse a child through a fever. Sitting up late to listen for a teen's car door to slam. Sitting up late to smell the pizza brought triumphantly home as the college kid comes through the door. As you let go of your child, hold your spouse more closely. Make and take the time to continually re-discover each other. The one who stands by you and your children is your most faithful friend.
The Book of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, written by a Jewish sage, speaks of a friendship that could be that of a husband and wife: "A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God (holds God in awe) finds; for he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself."