I am, by nature, an independent, social being and not one to wallow in misery. But when my youngest left for college, I did not jump up and down with unbridled joy, happy as a lark to be finally free.
The reality of being left behind and no longer needed was an awful, lonely feeling. But my sadness did not come solely because my job as a mom was finished.
Here’s the deal . . . that same year my daughter left, I suffered two other painful losses. My mother, who had been a daily presence in my life, died suddenly after a twelve-day illness. And shortly thereafter, my 25-year marriage ended when my husband unexpectedly packed his bags one day and left while I was at work.
A death or divorce, on its own, is enough to leave even the strongest person shattered to some extent. Suffer both at the same time, add an empty nest to the mix, and the feelings of grief, heartbreak, and loneliness can be profound. They were for me. I was keenly aware that life as I knew it was over. Both of my parents were gone . . . my husband and children, too. I was alone and on my own for the first time in my life, going home to a big, quiet, empty house with no one there to turn to for comfort or support.
if you pause
to listen carefully
you can hear
the silence in my house
I wrote a poem about those empty days. In it, I tried my best to convey what it honestly felt like for me to be alone. It was a conscious decision to “bullet” the poem’s title. I wanted the title to mimic the feeling I had of being caught in the grips of loneliness. Fragmented. Broken. Disconnected. I felt all of those things and more.
Everyone suffers from loneliness at one time or another. That’s the funny thing about loneliness—it can creep into your life, for any number of reasons. Even in a crowd, you can feel alone and lonely if you have no one to share what’s happening in your life. I had been plagued with loneliness on-and-off during the course of my marriage, mostly because I was married to a man I could not connect with on any level.
This was different. When my daughter left, I was dealing with grief and loss, the heartache of absence, and a dull, hollow emptiness that had more the feel of homesickness than hopelessness. I missed my daughter and ached for my mother’s wise and comforting advice.
Like a monster hiding under my bed, my loneliness appeared mostly at night. The minute the lights went out, and I was alone in the dark with my thoughts, it caught me in its miserable grip.
By day, I was better. I focused on the moment and spent a lot of time reading everything I could on empty nest syndrome and the myriad of feelings that come with it. I wanted to understand and process the emptiness I was experiencing, and it helped to know that I was not alone in what I was feeling. At some point, I realized that, if I was going to shake it, I had to (1) connect with other human beings and (2) connect with myself.
This is what I did—
I kept busy and surrounded myself with people. I spent as much time as possible talking with co-workers and friends. I shared my stories and listened to theirs. After work or on weekends, I went out with them or did things on my own. The library, supermarket, shopping mall, museums, gift shops, and bookstores became my new favorite haunts. I explored my neighborhood and surrounding areas and took my time browsing through stores that interested me. I bought new clothes and lingered at cosmetic counters, sampling makeup and perfumes and chatting with the sales clerks. I cut my hair short—in a pixie—shorter than I had ever worn it before. I pampered myself with a day at the spa and regular manicures and pedicures. I smiled more, whether I felt like it or not, and made it a point every day to pay someone a compliment—I’d tell a co-worker, “You look great in that color,” or I’d comment on the bank teller’s chic new hairstyle, or I’d go out of my way to thank the man who bagged my groceries. I bought myself flowers, the best cuts of meat, gourmet cheese, and imported wine. If there was a movie I wanted to see, but had no one to go with me, I went alone. At home, I’d set the table with my best china and eat fabulous meals by candlelight. I lit candles for my baths, too, and treated myself to long soaks in expensive scented salts and oils. I could afford to spend more on myself and had time to indulge in all the girly things that restored my spirit.
As I started feeling better about my situation—and, more importantly, myself—I realized that living alone wasn’t so bad after all. I loved the freedom. I loved being able to do whatever I wanted when I wanted to do it without having to answer to anyone. I had good friends. I made good money. I traveled out of the country twice, something I never imagined doing in my previous life, and stood on a bridge in faraway Paris counting my blessings.
In retrospect, the key for me was not only accepting the changes in my life, but more importantly recovering the essence of who I really was—a happy, hopeful, confident, creative, fun-loving female—something I had lost during the course of my marriage.
When I started feeling better about myself, everything else seemed to fall into place.
It took about a year before I was settled happily into my empty nest. I was alone, but no longer lonely. I was reading books again, listening to soft music, watching Masterpiece Theater, writing in my journal, and loving the peace and quiet of my clean house.
And when I wanted to talk to my daughter, she was just a phone call away.
♥ Today is the anniversary of my mom’s death. It’s been over ten years, and I still miss her.