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I’m not going to claim I was surprised by the loneliness that comes with being a true empty nester, (meaning there are no children or spouse in my nest.) When my last co-nester moved out 6 months ago, I knew I would enjoy many things about living alone, but I also knew there would be a fair share of days that would……..well………just plain suck.
Being lonely sneaks up on me some days. My work day will be going along well, with no shortage of students needing me and terrific coworkers keeping my mind off of home, and then 3:00 comes around (I start my day at 7 am) and I find myself having difficulty getting up from my desk to leave. Leaving means I have to face at least 6 hours awake in my home with no one to talk to but the cats. On days like that, everything presents itself as a little bit more challenging. I don’t want to cook because I can’t decide what to cook. Eating out is not a good financial choice, but it sometimes takes some pressure off, and it delays the inevitable return to the empty house. Once home, I carefully reacclimate myself to my quiet little home. I put away my work things, hang up my coat, check to see if the mail has arrived; the usual tasks of reentering. On better days, I have cleaning or laundry to do to keep me feeling busy and productive. On the harder days, I slump into my comfy chair and turn on the tv, and find myself still there quite awhile later.
The truth is, I had never expected to have an empty nest. Not a completely empty nest. I was married and had two kids that always brought their friends over, sometimes swelling the numbers in the house above 10. When my son went off to college 12 years ago, I walked around for 2 weeks in shear shock at the drastic reduction of activity and noise in our home. I had been used to kids sleeping over on every sofa, recliner and bed, and I suddenly found myself wishing for all that to come back.
My husband, daughter and I moved on to a new home and as she entered her teenage years, we had our fair share of kids hanging at the house. Everyone was welcome at any time, and I must say we had a few really great family gatherings and birthday parties with the house full of happy noises. Unfortunately, my husband was in his first 5 years after having been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, and life with him became more and more of a challenge. His unpredictability, paranoia, and irrational behavior became greater than I could handle, and very sadly my daughter and I moved into a new temporary apartment-nest when she was in her freshman year of high school.
To their credit, my daughters’ closest friends were champions at helping her with her transition from 4 bedroom family house to 2 bedroom apartment. We still often had overnight visitors or an extra person at the dinner table squeezed into the end of the living room, and laughter filled our modest little place. It was friends and family who helped to make this temporary place a home.
At the end of the year’s lease, I was able to purchase a small home for the two of us, and we joyfully moved in. I called it the “Doll House”, because of its size, but it really was enough for the two of us. My daughter regularly had a friend or two over, sometimes overnight, and of course my son and his wife were often here for dinner, or the grandparents came for a weekend visit. Unfortunately, I knew moving into this house that I would be beginning the count down to my daughter’s move out of it. The very idea made me sick, although most of the time I kept a calm face so my daughter would be able to do what I had been teaching her her whole life that she could do: move out and be independent. Still, she had her moments of fear and doubt. We were incredibly close, and there were times when we only half-joked that we would just live here together for the rest of our lives. Sometimes her best friend was included in our forever-home; sometimes her boyfriend. Still I knew she would go one day, and I am not ashamed to admit I cried about one thing or another most days of that last school year. I often said how grateful I was to have 18 years to get ready to say goodbye to each child, but in the end, it wasn’t enough for either one of them.
When that day came, I put on my brave face and went through the motions, and she did too. I can’t even recount it all here without needing a tissue, so I will just say that I dropped her off and cried all the way home. I was sad for my loss of her, and sad for what was ahead for me: an empty nest I had never wanted. That night as I walked through the house, I made myself go into her room. I can’t explain it, but maybe other parents reading this will understand that there is a certain kind of pain reserved for moms who know their kids have now flown away and will most likely only be back to ‘visit’. Everything about me grieved. Not just the leaving of my daughter, but my son and my husband, too. I was alone, and it had not been in my plans.
Six months have passed since that first day of being alone, and as expected, there are good days and bad days. On the good days, I am happy because my children are happy with their lives. Everything is in it’s proper place, they are healthy and enjoying their lives, their relationships (one wife and baby, one boyfriend!) their jobs and education. When they are happy, I am more at ease and a bit more confidant as an empty nester. On days when they struggle, I resist that urge to go get them and bring them back here to mother them. Instead, I have to settle for mothering over the phone. My work going well also contributes to my feeling better, giving me more confidence to face the empty nest at the end of the day.
I am learning to find things to do to keep my time filled. My house is almost always scrubbed clean, I have taught myself to crochet, I write letters and postcards, (and love it when others write back!) I try to cook meals that give me a few servings to freeze and pull out when I don’t feel like cooking. I try to get out with friends on occasion, and I live to see my granddaughter and her daddy and mommy at least once a week. I am writing more, and have a few tv shows I watch. I read when I can focus enough, and I am trying to take care of myself. There is some loneliness in each day, and I guess this is my reality for now. I don’t know if it will ever go away completely, but I don’t wallow in it and I hope for it to remain manageable.
On the positive side, (as of course I believe there is an up side to even the suckiest of challenges) my loneliness has helped me gain an appreciation and understanding for others in the same situation. I can only begin to know what it is like to be much older, perhaps with no ability to get out, with little or no family, and perhaps health issues that keep you homebound, and then not have visitors to break that emptiness. When the weather is warmer again, it is my intention to get out in the neighborhood and make friends with my neighbors and see who’s out there. Maybe there’s a special elder friend out there waiting for me. I need them as much as maybe they need me.