As grandchild leaves, pangs return


The empty nest revisited! My oldest daughter's last child is leaving home for marriage.

It's painful for me to listen and watch again. I don't think the cliche "empty nest" describes the emotional experience of having the last one move on, out of your orbit.

I went through it when our remaining offspring left home for good. The house isn't really empty, though; it still contains the echoes of their voices. The house holds scattered tokens: surfboards, magazines, barbells under beds; hockey sticks in the closets, and their guitars, a Barbie Doll or a tennis racket under a sofa.

Even weeks later, their special junk food was still in the pantry and the peeling paint was where they scribbled on the walls as toddlers. The paint I'd tried to wash off with the wrong stuff still decorated a second-floor wall.

Eventually, the detritus of every day life fades physically from the nooks and crannies -- the living space of the house.

Then suddenly, there's this vacuum. The leaving.

I would call it the "hollow home syndrome." I would have visual kinetic flashbacks from the hyperactivity that comes with four kids, but later the house itself seemed too quiet, too somber. The house along with the remaining parents becomes lonely.

Leaving home for college was different. When kids went off to college, you knew they'd come home for vacations.

Now my daughter's four-bedroom house will no longer be background to doors slamming, telephones ringing, stereo speakers blasting forth with the restless energy of youth.

My grandchild and new bride are old enough to get married and be on their own. But he, too, will miss the cocoon of his parent's shelter.

The wedding was beautiful and the young couple was radiant. There was no fear in their eyes.

My daughter tells me later: "Oh, Mom, I don't see how you stood it when we all left home . . . it will be awful without him, they are moving so far away . . . he is always so exuberant . . . we are such good friends . . . "

Her heart is adjusting to the changing rhythms of her life.

And I know as this is read, someone will say to me: "It was great LTC when the last one left. Finally my husband and I had the house to ourselves. We could travel, I went back to college, he played more golf . . . less worries."

I can understand that feeling, but I just didn't have it when each child left home. We had had the trials and errors, the sometimes terrors of parenting, and raising children to be healthy, happy citizens. But now I know the joys outweighed the sorrows.

Then they move away.

The imaginary umbilical cord does not sever just because they have left the house. It lengthens, it tremors and sometimes it strengthens.

Love and concern for your child is a continuum.

My daughter works part time and loves her job. She will throw herself into her job, and she and her husband will spend more time together; he will add to his list of hobbies. An artist, she will have time to paint again. They will learn to enjoy middle-age-dom.

Right now, I am feeling that initial ache for her as she goes about missing him.

Weddings are such happy times. But afterward, the mother will walk into his "once-room," sit on his old bed and drop a tear on the new bedspread she has bought for the now guest room that once was his -- her firstborn.

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