Of all the nightmares that haunt a parent's private moments, this one is particularly terrifying.
Losing contact with an adult, or young adult, child, for whatever reason. Then living every day with a host of silent questions.
Is he sick? In jail? Is she married? Are there children? Is she suffering? Is he somewhere in the next town, or the next country? Is he alive?
When a child and parent sever ties, the roots of the break are often complex. They may go back generations within a family's history.
A precipitating event of anger or psychological trauma may trigger the actual separation. Or it may come as the side-effect of addiction or rebellion. Sometimes it follows a gradual pattern of alienation and escalating resentment: sporadic contact, a few updates from third-party sources, then finally—nothing.
No e-mails or phone calls. No messages, pictures, or Christmas cards. No news at all. For days, weeks, months ? maybe years.
As a parent, busyness distracts you from the silent questions. In the midst of day-to-day concerns, you almost forget, for a while. But the quiet, raging fear awakens you at night, and you find yourself face to face with the gaping reality: Your child is lost to you.
A good friend of mine lived with this fear. Her son—a bright, inquisitive risk-taker, a fun-loving fearless leader, kind-hearted and helpful to a fault—drifted as a young man into a web of self-destructive behavior.
Who can say exactly why? The emotional aftermath of his parents' long-ago divorce? Disappointment over what he felt were broken promises? Over time, personal growth had come for the adults in his life. But the wounds sustained in the fragile years of childhood have a way of sticking with us; his still haunted him.1