The Empty Nest

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I’m feeling very sorry for myself. I always said I wouldn’t be one of those mothers who pined when the fledglings left the nest. I even thought it was vaguely pathetic. It just goes to show how foolish it is to talk with conviction about something you haven’t experienced. I’ve joined the club of pathetic mothers. Serves me right.

People have the habit of saying “How are you?” on meeting. Occasionally, instead of playing the game and saying “I’m fine”, I choose to tell the truth. Last week, when a friend asked, I replied that I was missing the boys and therefore miserable. People are always surprised at such a response. After the pregnant pause she said “You’ll get used to it.”

I know I won’t.

Grief doesn’t just go riding off on its bicycle into the night by your “getting used to it”. Rather, you

learn to carry it on your back, invisibly, in its knapsack. Right now, my sadness is raw. In time I will carry it less publicly. But it will be as heavy in a year or two as it is today since the boys will never live at home again. Those days are over.

An honest reply to my revelation would be “That must be hard.” Because it is hard—made harder in that I lost both sons at once. No more would need to be said. Sometimes, not often, I get a refreshing reply if I say I’m not a “happy chappy”. One man recently looked at me in surprise and said “I’m glad you said that because I feel terrible. My wife just left me.” He added “When people ask how I am I say I’m fine because they all seem happy. I don’t want to appear negative.”

These days if you are not “happy” you can be seen to be failing in some way in your inability to engineer it. Happiness can be rather elusive. There are many things over which we have no control. In the modern world there is an unhealthy preoccupation with the notion of achieving it—as if it was our right. It isn’t. The self-help shelves in bookshops burgeon with “How to be Happy” books. Being “happy” will always be beyond our reach in some way.

As far as grief is concerned the self-help books talk about the “stages” of grief. This was popularised in a best-selling book some years ago. How foolish. It is not a matter of ticking off  each “stage”. Any “stage” which seems to have passed can come back and pay a visit any time, even years later. Common sense would tell you that grief is a mixed bag with many shapes and forms and different for everyone. A sensible person knows that though its manifestations will change, it will always be there.

On the bright side, the boys are making their way in the world, fortunate to have interesting jobs. This doesn’t make up for the dark side—their absence. Rather the bright and dark co-exist. I prefer the word “content” to “happy” and despite my sadness I am content. The knapsack just got a bit heavier, that’s all.

The apartment seems very quiet. When I see the two empty beds in their old bedroom I feel a terrible pang. It’s an expensive 30-hour plane ride if I want to see them with one in Germany and the other in France.

Years ago a friend asked how I would sum up the difference between being a mother and not. I replied if there was a bullet coming for any of my children, I would step into the firing line and take it. I wouldn’t even have to think about it. I don’t know that I would do that for anyone else. That primal urge to be close to them and protect them doesn’t lessen when they reach adulthood. It is likely there forever.

And George, if you happen to read this post because I know you read them sometimes, how am I to protect mine when they are 12,000 miles away.

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