The hardest part of love

My daughter started talking about moving out shortly after she graduated from college. Actually, she started talking about it in her senior year: her dream school was NYU, but since nobody could afford that, she settled for Millersville, the local college where my ex was once a full-time professor and I an adjunct. We moved to Lancaster when Kiana was 2 and her brother was 4 months old; this artsy little city — a combination of Bible-thumping conservatives, hipsters, college students, and people who fall somewhere between — has been her home all of her life.

She loves Lancaster, but has always wanted to live in a truly big city. I’d hoped she and her friends would settle on Philadelphia or New York, but her heart has always been set on California. She visited for the first time when she was 16, attending a Berklee songwriting camp in Santa Monica. She loved it. I tried to explain that all of L.A. isn’t like that, besides, big cities are very, very expensive, and there are earthquakes, wildfires, floods, you name it, in California. But she was smitten by the vibe, the weather and the palm trees. Nothing I said could change that.

Pre-pandemic, she mentioned, usually about a month or two in advance, planned dates of departure. When a college friend in New York reached out about the possibility of Kiana taking over her lease in about a month, I steeled myself, yet again. That didn’t happen; her prospective roommate, one of her best friends, always got cold feet. Then the pandemic happened, and having a safe home base, far away from the epicenter of infection, seemed rather appealing.

It’s not like Kiana’s life went on hold. She’s a singer/songwriter, and continued to release music, written either by herself or with friends she’d met in school. Later on, connected strangers would find her and offer her access, for a fee. She’d ponder the pros and cons, then go with her gut, working three jobs to cover the vast majority, getting gifts from her grandma and me (though my amounts were pretty paltry) along the way, saving what she could. Her co-writers, producers and engineers continued to be her friends, but also became people she’d connected with through social media or her development deal. She spent money on videos, choosing (by necessity) people in a similar part of their career as she is. She performed in New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, making an occasional check but often not pulling in enough people to qualify for money. Over time, though, as her command of her voice and her comfort in her own skin continued to develop, along with her skills as a songwriter, she developed enough of a local following that her last show as a Lancaster native, in the main room of one of the main venues in town, was packed. She’d started out in the speakeasy with a handful of people, and ended up as a big draw at 10:30 on a Saturday night.

I went to that show, despite being, as expected, one of a handful of people over 30. I watched and listened to her, and couldn’t help thinking, “She’s ready.” Ready for…L.A. She’d already told me she was leaving a couple of weeks later. I’d seen her perform many times. But at nearly 24, she felt fully-formed, not because she knows everything (neither do I!), but because I really felt like she needed to see what a larger center would reveal to her. Was music going to be a life-long love affair, or would it lead to heartbreak? Like all love relationships, we’re better able to have a healthy outcome if we’re more mature.

We spent more time together than we had in a while in the week leading up to her departure. I’m famously busy, grinding out a life as a pianist, composer, voice actor, church musician, and piano teacher (also the mom of an adult son with autism). She had those three jobs, her music, and friends and co-workers who love her and wanted to say goodbye. We’d generally have brief conversations during the day, sharing things that we both found interesting via texts or messages, going out to an occasional movie or for lunch, pre-COVID. We never had a particularly difficult relationship (though I know Kiana had her secrets, along the way, still does), but now that she’s an adult, I can comfortably say that we enjoy each other more and more. So as we went to theater, out for brunch, to dinner, sat binge-watching “Is it Cake?,” and the like, I tried not to live in the future, when she’d be gone. Our hugs were longer, though, on both ends.

Finally, but all at once, the day came for me to drop her at the airport. She wanted me to stay with her until she was checked in; I did a bit of last-minute hands-on Mom duty by figuring out a way to get her bags under 50 pounds, despite the overpacked nature of her hand luggage. Then I gave her a long hug and walked to my car, without looking back. I was choking up, and I didn’t want to spoil her excitement.

The tears didn’t come until about an hour later. Then I cried on and off, listening to her sing Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Blue Skies,” recorded three years earlier, then to Psalm 42 by Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin, the song she sang at the Easter service, just two days before, with me at the piano. I pulled myself together before I picked my son up from a day program he attends twice a week, but shed a few more tears that evening, thinking about how my meal-planning would be easier, but mourning the reasons why.

The next day, I was fine. I’d moved even further from my childhood home — something I reminded myself over and over before Kiana left — and really, it was time for her to move on. Even if I hadn’t agreed, I know who gets to decide these things, and it isn’t me. Nor should it be. The point of raising children is to help them to mature in as healthy a manner as possible, but even then, the person they become is up to them, to some extent.

I patted myself on the back for my OWN maturity, and then hit a small bump. I didn’t always check my daughter’s Instagram, because she doesn’t post daily, and frankly, I forget to look. Well, I used to. Anyway, today’s post was a small punch in the gut, somehow. I hate to admit that to myself, because it was such a happy one — she loves L.A., was already having a great time…what, I asked myself, is your problem?

It took a while, but I figured it out. I knew, intellectually, that she might stay there. But today, it feels more real. She may never be close by again. Even though our busy lives might have intersected for shorter and shorter intervals over time, I always knew she was somewhere nearby. Even though I often wished for more predictable access to the bathroom, waiting for her to get out of it meant she was nearby. I’ll see her again, but she lives all the way across the country. I’m not wealthy. It’s going to be mainly Zoom and Instagram, if I want to see her face at all. Thank God for Zoom and Instagram.

I wrote this string of haikus in 2016. The day she left, I posted it on Facebook. I’ve known the truth for years.


Kiana’s fierceness

is wrapped in the softest silk,

colorful and strong.

Kiana is bold

enough to shrug off labels

and dismiss all cliques.

Kiana’s mind seeks

to shape informed opinions,

wants to know the truth.

Kiana’s focus

is both below and above:

grounded, heavenly.

Kiana’s concern

for Earth and all its creatures

makes her a blessing.

Kiana’s kindness

burned through her introversion,

glowing radiantly.

Kiana’s sadness

is soon consumed by her drive

for resilience.

Kiana’s passion

for life, enthusiastic,

inspires me with joy.

Kiana’s caring

for her family is pure,


When Kiana loves,

she loves with intensity

undimmed, unreserved.

Kiana’s beauty

goes deep beneath skin, to soul

and makes her priceless.

Kiana’s quick wit

and quirky sense of humor

are great company.

Kiana’s gifted

with a voice so sweet and rare,

suffused with feeling.

Kiana will fly;

my little nest can’t hold her.

I’ll smile through my tears.

Copyright 2016


Maria Thompson Corley




Maria Thompson Corley is a Canadian pianist, arranger, voice actor, and mother of two.

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Maria Thompson Corley

Maria Thompson Corley

Maria Thompson Corley is a Canadian pianist, arranger, voice actor, and mother of two.

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