Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Has anyone studied the science of missing somebody? Is there research on what makes people miss somebody more or less?

Did the people left behind in the Old World feel better when they got a letter after twenty years of wondering how their ambitious relative was doing in the New World or did it just make them sad or filled with envy or wishing they had made the same decision to immigrate when they had the chance?

When expensive long distance phone calls were the means by which someone gone communicated with someone who stayed, did the left behind start feeling better after months of no calls? Or did the phone’s silence make them miss the gone person more?

Now, one’s loved one has barely left the room before the endless texts and photos begin. “Here I am on the bus on the way to the train on the way to the plane. Here is a picture of the miniature packet of peanuts, the man next to me talks too much, there is a line to the bathroom, I’ll text you when we land.” It is hard for missing someone to really ripen when communication is ceaseless.

Tonight, because she seemed blue, I asked my seven-year old granddaughter, along with us on a trip to the West Coast to see her aunt, uncle and cousins, whether she wanted to Facetime her mother back home. She nodded, tears welling up. Ok, I thought, it will make her feel better to talk to her mother, see her mother. Thank God for I-phones and Steve Jobs’ plethora of amazing apps; it’s incredible that one person can talk face to face to another person across the country for free. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of this great technology to make this little sad buckaroo feel a little bit better.

So they had a nice little conversation and, at the end, her mother said, “I miss you” as a way to wrap up the conversation, I think, and make her daughter feel loved and appreciated. And that was the nail in the coffin. The rest of the evening was spent in silent weeping. No shrieks, no hysterics, just steady sad dripping, whispered words, “I miss my mommy” and shrunken little body language. She could not have been a sadder looking kid. Obviously, my hope for the phone call as a way to cheer her up was a miscalculation.

So I wonder about people serving in the military in Afghanistan who Skype with their wives and kids every week. Does it make everyone feel better or rip open a healing wound every week? Would it be better to just put the person’s picture on the mantle and essentially ‘park them’ until they show up in person again rather than suffer the sad stone of “I miss you” constantly?

When I was in 9th grade, my boyfriend went to Nebraska for the summer. He wrote maybe three letters that whole summer but I spent every day waiting for the mail truck to come. Each letter would put me into the waiting for the next letter mode. Like a dog who gets a table scrap every 15th dinner, I’d be waiting and waiting, whole days spent waiting. I would have missed him less had he never written a single word. The letters were all about harvesting the corn or the hay or whatever it was. Who remembers? The summer was agony. That’s all I recall.

It’s probably wrong and I’ll pay for it someday when God gets to judging grandparent insensitivity, but that’s the last Facetime for our little buckaroo. There’s a reason why the people who run summer camps don’t want parents writing letters and sending care packages. It makes the kids sad. It makes them homesick. Duh.

Tomorrow, she will get the sad news that Facetime is broken and can’t be fixed for at least a week. I already got my Honest Parent badge so I worry not about being a lying grandmother. She can still miss mommy but we’re going to have mommy recede in our consciousness.

We are now incommunicado for the duration. Off the grid and into the pool.

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