THE PAIN OF THE EMPTY NEST

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.

 

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EVELYN MARGARET

One afternoon while walking in the isles of Target,I was greeted by a silver-haired woman leaning against a quad cane. When I first saw her I thought how clear and beautiful her face was for someone whose hair had long since lost its youthful color. One look at this woman and I one could tell she was an enviable beauty in her younger years. Yet it wasn’t just the beauty of her face that struck me, there was an aura about her that beamed of vitality, hope, and purpose.

“Hello,” she said. I said, “Hello.” “What are you looking for,” she asked me. “I’m looking for a watch,” I said. She said, “Oh, you may find some very nice watches in here.” “Sometimes you can find real quality ones here.” Somehow our conversation wandered from watches to how old she was when she became a widow. I asked her , “did you ever remarry?” She said, “No.” I asked why not. She then said, “I never found anyone that fit into my life.” We were very deep into the conversation before I knew her name; she said her name was Evelyn Margaret and that she was eighty-eight years old. I told her that I had a beautiful daughter who died at age nineteen. She then said, “you don’t look much more than nineteen yourself. Amazingly, I didn’t feel like a nine-teen year old. I was truly at a low point in my life. So much of my life was unraveling around me and the loneliness I felt was crushing. Evelyn sensed this and she seemed to be an angel sent from heaven. Evelyn  told me that she lived in a very nice senior living complex off of Route 9. She gave me her apartment number and said she was home mostly in the evenings because she went on outings in the day time. “I only have a small hearing problem and need a little support when I walk,” she said. “This is why I have the cane.” I asked her how did she get around. She said, “I catch the bus that has a stop near my apartment.”

I looked at her and I was amazed. I wondered how had she managed to defy the stereotype of aging as deterioration?  It wasn’t just her physical mobility;Evelyn had managed to capture a freshness and appreciation for life that most people lose as they age. Her zest for life hadn’t diminished, it seemed to have grown. She told me about her mother and how much beautiful jewelry she had and that she had left part of it to her and the rest to her sister. Evelyn seemed like an angel. I’d met her by accident, but she seemed to understand who I was and what made me “tick.”

The life lesson I learned from Evelyn Margaret was that your attitude towards life is what gets you through the tough times; my grandmother was the same way: she lived to be nearly 100. My grandmother’s mind was as sharp at 90 at it was at 65. Here’s a list I’d like to leave with my readers, a list for keeping a youthful perspective on life.

  1. Keep a positive attitude toward life’s events. It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it. (Wear life as a loose garment)img_0769
  2. Keep moving. Physical movement, such as exercise keeps the body and the spirit alert. People who stay physically active keep their brains alert also. The two are connected. Dancing, walking, hiking, swimming are a partial list of activities that keeps one moving. It’s not the activity, what matters is that you enjoy it and it keeps you moving.
  3. Keep your mind active by engaging in activities that force you to use your brain. Puzzles, learning a foreign language, writing, reading are a partial list of brain activities. Eleanor Roosevelt was in her nineties when she died, but it is said she had the brain of a someone in their twenties or thirties. She wrote, read, and stayed physically active and involved until the end of her life.
  4. Surround yourself with people who love and care about you. Loving relationships are motivation for people to stay healthy and involved in life. Love goes a long way in keeping people with a youthful, energetic and positive outlook on life.