In a recent conversation with an old friend that I haven’t spoken to in years, she alluded to my “recent” blog, “The Empty Nest,” saying “How is it having your son away in college?” It shook me up to realize that a year-and-change has gone by since I wrote that blog and that for people reading it for the first time, it’s as if time stood still. I’m reminded of numerous examples in our lives as parents when we haven’t seen each other’s children for a while and we exclaim, “Oh my God, look at how tall you’ve gotten!” It’s as if we can’t envision time moving forward unless we, ourselves, are part of that movement.
But time does move forward: sometimes with aching, sorrowful steps; other times bounding forward with exuberant joy. People have asked me how the empty nest is. Is it better now than it was at first? Was it bad in the beginning?
Yes, it’s better now. Was it bad in the beginning? We didn’t actually have a chance to find out. You see, on September 10, 2011, almost immediately after we returned home from dropping Allen off at college, we got a phone call. My brother-in-law had committed suicide. To complicate matters, this was my husband’s brother who was married to, and separated from, my biological sister. A real “all-in-the-family” sort of devastation.
Any feelings we had about Allen being out of the house, and any exploration of what it felt like to be a couple again, were overshadowed by grief. It was the monster that took over our lives last year. It lived with us, slept with us, took up all the space that was left behind by my son moving out and made our house feel as crowded as if we had had people move in rather than leave.
Retrospectively, it gave us perspective. The empty nest isn’t a death, thank god. If we’ve done our job right, our children, now adults, stay connected to us and we learn to live with the physical distance because the emotional closeness is far more important and powerful than anything else.
A year-and-change later, the grief about my brother-in-law has eased. Like all grief, I can’t say it will ever go away, but it’s the monster in the corner now rather than the one that sucked all of the air out of the room every day.
Allen came home this past summer and time “bounded forward with exuberant joy.” We spent long hours catching up and enjoying his company; relishing his stories about life independent from us; laughing at the inevitable antics of college life. We were sorry to see him go, but thrilled that he had such a great first year.
He’s off now for his Sophomore year. And we’re “empty nesters” again, for the first time. And it’s ok, it really is.