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'I Love You More Than...' When Parents Grieve Separating From a Child Post-Divorce

02/25/2015 03:06 pm ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015

"All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on." -- Havelock Ellis

People try to give you all the advice they can about breakup and divorce, like how to prepare and what you will go through and how to cope.

But there are some things you never really understand until you actually do it.

We could sit and paint a picture of loss in all its hues and intricacies.

And we could also peel back each one of those layers, each one of those strokes, and find love.

Our painting only begins to take form with the ending of the partnership.

Endings. Quick. Or prolonged. If there is something I wish for anyone, if I actually had to wish anything about a breakup, it would be that it's quick.

But sometimes we just hold on, remembering, there was something, wasn't there? Back then when things were good.

And then, the same problems, the ones you can't seem to find resolution over, come back. And the two of you realize that however long you avoid it, the end, it is coming. And that this is just no longer good.

And eventually, you do let go.

People say things like, "time heals." But sometimes there's a piece of our heart that doesn't transform into whole acceptance. Sometimes we have to get in there with our little thread and needle, and stitch it up. "There you go, sweetie. That'll hold for now."

But if you have kids, and there is a breakup, there is a part you can't stitch closed, because you want it open for them, always, so they can come back and leave again, at will.

So it's a repetitive bruising. It takes a jab, then a punch, but it stays open.

And it hurts.

And this is one of the things people tell you but you can't really grasp until you feel it yourself.

We work hard to minimize the anxiety and separation of the children from one parent or another.

But the other parent, the one waving good-bye with a bright smile while the kids climb into dad's or mom's car, that parent turns back towards the empty house, and they grieve too.

And I have three boys, so there are moments after they leave when I have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. "Thank goodness they are heading off with someone who loves and cares for them." Because just today, I don't think I can do one more hour of this thing called parenting.

But when I recover from their chaos, the feeling is back. Loss.

They are a part of me. And the youngest one, we still have an umbilical cord between us. It has stretched longer and longer, yes. But in the mornings when I wake up and think, "he should be here," I lay in my bed and I feel that chasm between my room and his empty one and it is like a fresh slice across my heart.

And sometimes, just to sleep at night when he's gone, I will quietly tiptoe from my own bed and slip into his, where his blue fleece pillow with penguins on it still has the shape of his head imprinted from the night before (he never makes his bed, and obviously neither do I). Here, I can still smell my little boy: cookies, mountain air, and clay. It relaxes me. And I sleep.

Because we still feel like pieces of each other's bodies. And each night that he's here with me, we cuddle together to read a book and he tilts his head up towards me and plants little, strawberry-shaped kisses on my lips and tells me, "I love you more than...." And each night we find new ways we love each other more.

More than all the pine needles on the trees we see on the mountainside outside our window. More than every piece of sand on the beach by our house. More than how fast the river we love to swim in each summer runs. More than all the chocolate ice-cream any one has ever eaten, ever. More than. More than.

And when he cries because he misses his dad when he's with me, or misses me, when he's away, I remind him of just how big love is. It doesn't just follow you. No, it wraps you, around and around, with its palette of dazzling, brilliant shades.

And I remind myself of how we don't always appreciate it fully when it's sitting at our kitchen table, chewing loudly or complaining about stuff.

And how missing is really just loving more than.

All that love, it's big love.

So we hold onto that, each of us, until the next time he comes back and then leaves again. And slowly, slowly, we accept this is the new rhythm of our life, of our love.