Family | 2 comments
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Our daughter moved to Ontario, so we are Empty Nesters now!
We are living in an empty nest: Wasn’t this the goal in our life? When children are young, we teach them to tie their own shoes, fix their own sandwiches, swim, ride bicycle, and eventually how to drive and do their own laundry. Parents spend time teaching their children in hopes they will be independent, productive young adults.
On one gloomy and chilly Friday morning (November 8, 2013) our daughter left the house for the last time. We kissed and hugged her goodbye, and next second she was gone. My last image of her was… well, I don’t know. I missed the opportunity to have that last image. I was crying my heart out as their U-Haul truck was leaving our street.
Life as it is
Until your last child leaves home, it’s impossible to imagine just how hard empty nest syndrome can hit you. Our daughter grew up as a perfect child and we became more and more respectful of her as the years passed by. She was and still is our princess and our ray of sunlight, and no matter what her age, she’ll always be all those things to us. As a little girl, she would say she’ll never get married, but little did she know, her soul-mate was on his way to meet her. Two things in life parents are instilling in their children; roots and wings. She has now grown her wings, ready to fly, but she will still be loved and have roots within our family.
She already left the house several times before, but she continued to live in the same neighborhood… only 10 minutes away. This was good enough for us; we knew where she was and she visited often. There is no replacement for mom’s cooking… Sanja is very successful young women who always knew what she wants from her life. She lived in her own house since 2007 and worked as a nurse in a local hospital. She likes to travel, so last few years she traveled the world with her best friend Jenn. But after every trip she always returned home.
She married the man she loves in Croatia last summer in the beautiful Tuskanac park in Zagreb, where everything reminded her on her childhood. The whole family was there with her to celebrate their big day. In her husband she has found the perfect partner, and we are delighted he has become a member of our family. Both of us believe he is everything one could hope for in a son-in-law.
Empty Nest Syndrome
But leaving our house this time was different. This time she left for good. We know that and she knows it. She left with her husband who is a wonderful young man. I can’t say this enough!). They are in love and we’re very happy for them.
It’s been few weeks since they left. We’re really in a funk right now. The silence in the house is overwhelming. We feel like nothing we do – making dinner, cleaning the house, etc. has any real purpose anymore. We are going through empty nest syndrome. Both of us still have a job, five days a week, so that keeps us busy. Our son & his family live close by… thanks God! We can enjoy our grandchildren, but at the same time we feel like a big piece of our life is gone. Nothing seems to make us feel happy right now. We just look at each other and we can see emptiness in our eyes. We really need to get up and get motivated again. But how do you that? Easier said than done…
Emptiness in the house
We also feel so empty and afraid to be in our home alone. Where did all my independence go to? I never knew I could feel so much emptiness. We will both somehow get thru this… but it will need time.
Now that our children are grown up our life changed a lot. We feel like they don’t need us anymore and that kills both of us. We crave for their affection but it seems with time, they are becoming more distant. I had thought that blood relations would entitle me to unconditional love but it doesn’t seem so. Children get so involved with their own lives that they hardly have time for their parents. It is so agonizing to realize that although they are our life, we do not have much usefulness in their lives.
We know we should let them go, should not expect anything from them… their love, their attention, but how? We keep visualizing them as little and coming running into our arms, rocking them until they slept, sitting at their bedside when they fell sick…
When our children grow up should we cease to be parents? Keep away from them? Do not advise them or worry for them? So many questions, as we get into unknown territory…
Filling the empty nest
When I come home from work these days, I still see her belongings lying around our house. We began the task of cleaning her room in the basement (or at least we attempted to). Invariably there were the discoveries that felled both of us. Her framed pictures left around the basement, where she was living for the last month or so, her keychain, completely intact… had not a key missing, not even our house key. Its symbolism was not lost on me. She no longer considered our house her home and equally slaying, it was clear she wasn’t returning. Like Spanish Conquistador Cortez, she had burned her ‘ships’ behind her and was boldly embracing the unknown. Then there are the album photos – the recent ones, the childhood ones, all too hard to look at now. As I sat on her bed and looked around her room, I was reminded that my time of parenting was now over – it came to an end that Friday morning, when these newlyweds left Edmonton and our house, to begin their own life adventure… just like Vera and I did many years ago, when we left Croatia and moved to Canada.
The truth is nothing prepares you for this moment. The speeding car of parenting that’s been hurtling down the road at 100 km/h for three decades, suddenly hits a wall. One day the house is filled with noise, music and arguments. The next, the silence our children leave behind is deafening. I was used to coming home at the end of each day and hearing the familiar sound of her footsteps in the house, the music wafting from under her door, seeing her under the blanket in front of TV (she loved watching soaps ‘Young and the Restless’) and sometimes the smell of her food (macaroni and cheese!) cooking in the kitchen – all this… gone now.
For the first time, I noticed new sounds that took their place – the ticking of the clock on the wall in the kitchen, the soft whirring of the kitchen refrigerator, the whisper of wind escaping into the house somewhere. Then came the strangling loneliness I immediately recognized as grief. Memories flooded my mind as tears rolled down my cheeks. Drives to the doctor. Drives to her friend’s houses for sleepovers. Drives to school, volleyball games and the malls… countless birthday parties. That happened plenty of times when my ‘baby’ began to exercise small steps of independence. Then she purchased a car and I taught her to drive. She never quite learnt to completely stop at the red light, before making a right turn. She never learned that because she lived in the fast lane. The sound of her white little Mazda turning on our driveway made us parents, happy. Dinner was usually ready on the kitchen table before she would enter the house, even though most of the time she would say: ‘I’m not hungry, I ate at work!’
Just thinking about it and I got a lump in my throat and have to reach for the Kleenex box. I remember her first babysitting job when we lived in Lago Lindo area. Her first date, her first job at Applebee’s restaurant where they were cheating on her work hours.
… Unable to cope with any further cleaning I closed the door to her room.
Long journey to Ontario
As they traveled south I was receiving email updates from her of how they are progressing traveling east on Trans-Canada highway #17. It usually takes four days to drive across Canada (3,600 km). But, they made it all the way to Campbellville, just North West of Mississauga in Ontario, in three days! Their overnight stops were only in Brandon (Manitoba) and Nipigon (Ontario)… With every email they were further and further from us, and it hurt me really bad. It is like losing her slowly and painfully… when are we going to see them again??
Somehow, we’re supposed to be fine when our kids suddenly leave home. There’s the school of thought that says you can somehow wave a magic wand and have the feelings and emotions associated with a 30+year relationship magically dissolve into a morning mist. Perhaps this can be accomplished with drugs and alcohol. But ultimately those feelings cannot be swept aside. At some point, they have to be dealt with. They are the keys, in fact, to transitioning out of Empty Nest. The trick is to be gentle with yourself.
Take prescription to heal
Then one day our friend suggested we take this prescription. Buy an egg timer. Set it for exactly thirty minutes. Each day go into her room and do as much cleaning as we could and when the buzzer rang, to walk out of the room and close the door.
We came to realize that everything we found in her room was all deserving of our tears, which supposedly would help us navigate these uncharted waters. For 30 minutes every day, we both went into her room and everyday it was the same: we sat at the corner of her bed and buried our faces in the hands until the egg timer beeped. Miraculously, over the course of the next few weeks, the tears became fewer. When we reported this back to our friend, she said that we are now ready to address the cleaning.
‘Take it in stages’, she said. ‘Do one little area at a time and leave it at that. That’s what I did when my daughter left. Don’t try and clean the whole room in thirty minutes. You’ll be setting yourself up for failure.’
And so in 30-minute days, we’ve got to say goodbye to our daughter and eventually restored the room to how it was before she inhabited it. It was long, it was painful, it was saying goodbye. She left lots of her clothes behind for charity, but going through these begs, every piece of clothing carried her smell and reminded us even more on her. We couldn’t do it… the begs are still untouched.
A Weaning Process
These days as soon as we get home from work, we turn on our laptop and iPod, fire them up and launch Skype, check the email… Did she call? Did we miss her call? Should we call them? What time is in Ontario now? Often we check weather channel to see if they received snow like we did. Suddenly this is our new life… somewhere between Alberta and Ontario.
Weaning is a complicated process, and so is our journey as empty-nesters. We are missing interacting with our daughter and are now faced with constant reminders of that loss: seeing the empty chair at the dinner table; running to our daughter’s room to tell her the latest news and finding it unoccupied and quiet… our life is radically changing and no one seemed to notice. We both feel silly and very much alone. I am more convinced than ever how brief life is. Years blur. Time moves at bullet-train speed.
If there’s a cardinal lesson I’ve learned from Empty Nest Syndrome, it’s this: the tears of farewell must be shed in order to move on. There’s no getting out of it. Empty Nest Syndrome does not, however, answer the lingering question – ‘How do you stop missing someone you love?’ The answer to that is obvious. You don’t.
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