My nearly two year old son, Samuel, calls my parents Bibi and Babu, which means grandma and grandpa in Swahili. Having them home on furlough for the past few months has been an indescribable joy. That is why when my dad left for Africa a little over a week ago for a 3-week stint abroad I began the mourning process for when both Bibi and Babu will leave for 3 long years. Without fail, when we have FaceTimed with my mom this week Samuel has immediately asked to see Babu. My mom has been a trouper trying to explain that Babu is in Africa and that he loves Samuel very much even though he isn’t there to play with him. Every time she goes through her spiel I can feel my heart cracking, and my mouth dries up thinking that someday in the not so distant future I will be the one having to do the explaining when Samuel asks to play with Bibi and Babu.
I will be the one trying to convey the fact that they Bibi and Babu now live half way around the world instead of a short car ride away. When we drive by their old house I will be the one explaining why we aren’t going to stop in and say hi. As Samuel gets older I will be the one trying to explain to him that Bibi and Babu have been called by God to go and love and serve people that have not heard about Jesus in their own language. I will see the look of disappointment on his face and watch the tears well up in his eyes when his beloved Babu is not there to roll on the floor with him and play trains or trucks.
When Bibi and Babu board that plane to Africa I will support them with all my heart while simultaneously wanting to run and hide in a dark room and cover myself in sack cloth and ashes to mourn. I will go to my grave claiming that I have the greatest parents in the world. They abound with wisdom, godliness, and generosity. Their home is always open and their love for people is seemingly endless. I will be saying goodbye to two of my closest friends, and email and Skype will not make up the vast gulf of their absence.
I have said goodbye to them so many times it has become second nature. It was built into me as a missionary kid. Goodbyes are a way of life. Shed a few tears, feel sorry for yourself for a few moments and then move on. Life is to short to dwell on what is out of reach, but this time saying goodbye feels different. The sorrow runs far deeper because I am mourning not for myself but for my son. I am mourning on behalf of Samuel. My beloved nearly two-year-old son who is not able to understand what is happening and for a season is losing two of the most important people in his life.
Perhaps I am just beginning to experience the great anguish of parenting. This strange phenomenon where you feel your children’s pain more acutely than your own. You shoulder their hurts and carry them as your own. You wish with all your heart to spare them sorrow and suffering and sadness but deep down know that you cannot. I know that September is a long way off still, and I plan to make the most out of all the time we have with Bibi and Babu between now and then, but already I feel building within my soul a deepening sadness at the thought of them leaving.
This goodbye is different. This goodbye is going to hurt in a new and terrible way.