My grandmother gave birth to twelve children, and of those twelve she lived to bury three of them. Two died as children, and my father passed away as an adult. Of the remaining nine, all left home, married and settled in various areas of the country. She survived my grandfather by fifty years, which wasn’t uncommon for women in the South over seventy-five years ago. The one child who remained was my mentally challenged uncle, Curtis Quince.
As a child I would go to “Mama Lula’s” house with my brother, Patrick; we would sashay into her front door, sit down and talk for a few minutes, then get up and run outside to play. I loved escaping to her house because it was a breath of fresh air from the noise of my seven brothers and sisters. I’m sure the quietness and refuge that I cherished, she had come to hate. There were days I would come by and see her sitting on the porch with a forlorn look on her face: it wasn’t only a look of loneliness and despair, the look said, “no one is going to rescue me from this.” Even as a child, I sensed “Mama Lula’s” relief when Patrick and I would show up, I sensed her thankfulness, and I was equally grateful for the sense of history and peacefulness she had given to me.
It is true that we can spend all our lives as employees, parents, and productive citizens, and one day wake up to realize we are in the house alone. I realized my “nest” was empty after I dropped my youngest daughter off at college. My ex-husband had left a year earlier to build a new nest with a younger, new wife and two other children. I didn’t have time to be bitter; the time that I possessed was spent trying to find a career in post-mid-life and trying to keep two daughters in college.
I joined several meetup.com sites, became an avid hiker, a prolific dancer, and began to explore the singing skills that had lain dormant for a long time. I found the self who had been buried beneath the needs of children and the expectations of a neglectful spouse. I returned to school and acquired a certificate as a drug counselor. I got a job working at something that required skill and thought. It was a great accomplishment. My days were filled. The nights and the weekends became the gaps. I suddenly realized the children had filled the nights and the weekends until now: they had filled the gaps for ten years plus. Overwhelmingly, I began to crave sharing the most insignificant events. A sunset, a cup of coffee, a walk in the park, a walk anywhere; these things became monumental events set against a backdrop of emptiness.
The gaps are here and I refuse to fill them with minutia. I refuse to fill the gaps with things that I’m not passionate about. I spoke with a woman I met and is in a similar situation with the children and the spouse gone;I said, “It’s amazing how much space another person takes up in your life, and when they are no longer there how much space is left.” So I must fill the gaps with Joan. I must fill the gaps with whom I choose to be with and what I choose to give my time to. Time is the most precious commodity of an “empty nester”; use it wisely, make it work for you and you will see the valuable return of your investment.