Archive for October 11th, 2008

Empty Nest

I had hoped to post, on October 9, that my daughter and her husband were celebrating their ninth wedding anniversary.  The wedding was as unconventional and individual as both Daughter and her husband (on her blog, she refers to him as “Rain Man,” but has no nickname for herself — I hate to be cutesy and boring, but who could resist “Sunshine” as a counterpoint to Rain Man?).

So Sunshine and Rain Man were married in the Orthodox Church, itself about as unconventional as things get, considering how off the radar scope Orthodoxy is, in general.  They held their wedding reception in the “church hall,” which was actually the church’s basement because the church was in the process of being seized by eminent domain — the Town of Biddeford wanted the land for a parking lot (!!!) — so there was nothing swanky or glamorous about the thing, which is just as well because neither Sunshine nor Rain Main is swanky or glamorous, and neither are their parents, and who cares about anybody else.  The priest was actually invited to the reception, which I gather is often overlooked, but he was invited, and he came, and evidently had a good time, for the amount of time he was able to be there.

Then Sunshine and Rain Main took a cruise ship from Portland, ME to Nova Scotia for their honeymoon, and the rest of us went back to our dusty, boring, normal lives.

Not quite.  It seems that my sister went home and said to Mom and Dad, “I am SOOOO SORRY that I got married and left you!!”  At the time, my sister was 37 years old, so it wasn’t unreasonable for her to be married; on the other hand, she did marry when she was 20, against the wishes of my parents, who wanted her to at least have a little life experience of her own before marriage.  My mother told me that she was a little shocked at my sister’s reaction to Sunshine’s wedding, but of course, by this time Sis had kids of her own and could appreciate how it felt for us to lose a family member, even if that loss was offset by the gain of such a wonderful son-in-law as Rain Man.

And it was difficult.  We drove home and looked at our daughter’s bedroom, and felt such a sense of shock and loss, knowing that she would never again inhabit that particular space.  For two weeks, we kept her bedroom door closed so we could pretend she was studying or sleeping.  By the end of the year, we actually did convert the room into office space (spurred on by Sunshine’s injunction not to turn her bedroom into a “shrine”), and now, nine years later, it’s hard to remember that it was ever anything else.  But at the time, it almost did seem like sacrilege.  Somebody we had loved and watched grow up had inhabited this space; how could it ever belong to anybody else?

Even though we adore our son-in-law, and even though our own son was still home, the sense of loss was so overwhelming at first, especially around 4:00 or 5:00 o’clock.  If you have kids, you know what I mean:  That’s when they come bursting in the door, full of news about their school day and trying to get their homework finished up, just as you’re trying to get supper on the table, and then Dad comes home and there’s noise and laughter and teasing, dishes washed up, and the final preparation for the next day, the permission slips and homework-checking and maybe a little “down time” with hobbies.

Then Sunshine left, that woman described by her in-laws as, “Hurricane C” — she comes into a room full of energy and bustle, has five different things going on at once so that your attention span is always challenged, and when she leaves, all you can do is sit exhausted and wonder, “What just went on here???!” And suddenly, there was too much time to sit and wonder, to look back not just on the past week or the past month, but on an entire lifetime of, “What just went on here?!”  It was so unnerving.  The silence was indescribable.  Probably it was such a great shock because I’ve always loved silence, and always thought, “Once the kids are gone, I’ll have time for [fill in the blank with appropriate hobby].”  I wasn’t going to be one of those mothers whose life was over once her kids left home.  Of course, it didn’t work out that way.  What I had time for was absorbing the deafening silence, and an overwhelming grief that I was now on the periphery of a life I had always cherished.  It took years before the grief was less overwhelming.  Even now, when life is full and rich again — just remembering it is wrenching.

Our son, of course, was still home.  But if Sunshine can be likened to a hurricane, her brother calls to mind the expression, “Still waters run deep.”  In his case, the waters are so deep that it’s easy to overlook his presence in your life.  He was working his way through college, so even though he lived at home during his college years, there were many nights when it was just the two of us at the supper table.  We took to eating supper in the living room, watching television if there was anything on, and talking about nothing very much.  Part of that, of course, comes from lives shared over thirty years, so that many things can be said without words.  But part of it was certainly an unwillingness to probe too deeply into a loss so profound.

Then, just as we were getting used to Sunshine’s absence, her brother left.  Readers of this blog need no description of the fiasco that followed.  The funny thing about his leaving was that it wasn’t nearly as painful as Sunshine’s leaving — at first — but like a skillfully performed amputation, the pain of losing him only became evident over a period of months and then years.  That quiet, steady, rock-like presence is — no longer a presence.  We’re on the sidelines of his life, too.  It’s comforting, however, to know that at least he has a life, full of friends and fun and an honest job that he does well and enjoys (when bureaucracy doesn’t get in his way).

So here we sit, nine years after the nest lost its first fledgling, and…we’ve actually become somewhat accustomed to the silence.  We still eat in the living room; the hubster says that he just can’t get used to those two empty places, and can I blame him?  Neither of the kids lives locally, though at least they aren’t halfway across the country, so we don’t get to see very much of them; they have their lives, and we have picked up ours where we left it off 33 years ago, when Hurricane Sunshine first roared in.  I think about those years of wondering what the kids would turn out to be in life, and if they’d be able to make it out there in that big, bad, dangerous world all on their own, and — they are.  They’re doing it.  And the loneliness and grief have been replaced by a sense of…

Awe.  There are two wonderful people in this world, who got their start here in this house.  There are two more wonderful people in this world, and even though their mother does things somewhat differently than her own mother did, I have no doubt that in time, they will make their own place and their own invaluable contribution to their little corner of Wherever They Settle.

I can’t help wondering if Adam and Eve didn’t feel the same way.

Well, anyway — Happy Anniversary to Sunshine and Rain Man, and may we all celebrate for many more years to come!


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