Empty Nest Pt. 6, the Final Chapter: With Keys In Hand, He Flies…

This series began eight years ago when, on June 26, 2010, I sat down and emptied my head of the many thoughts swirling on the topic of “empty nest,” which, in my case (at that moment), involved the strange polarity of being the terribly proud parent of a graduating senior, while being painfully aware that my child’s next move took him out the door. Unfathomable.

Empty Nest Syndrome was not  something I took all that seriously in the early years. People made jokes about it; some friends referenced their experiences with chagrin, others denied it was even a thing. When it came my turn, it struck like a tsunami.

No matter how rational thought defines this moment in a family’s life—”it’s perfectly natural,” “it’s the next logical step”; “a chance to see your kid fly”— irrational thought says sending your kid off on his own after eighteen years of deeply-felt all-hands-on-deck involvement was nuts. For me it was like losing a limb: I ultimately learned to function without it, but never stopped feeling it should still be there.

But rather than reiterate the roller-coaster unfolding of that momentous transition, I’ll refer you to Parts 1-5 of the series starting HERE, where the ups, downs, triumphs and heartaches of this maddening time were noted. As for now—this final chapter—I wanted to reflect a bit in conclusion, to bring this series to a proper close as I help the man my son has become choose area rugs and decide which couch best fits the parameters of his new apartment.

I’m a lucky parent: I have a strong, enduring marriage with a good man who’s a good father, and a child who’s been both a delight and the single most amazing aspect of my life. I have few parenting regrets (there was that outburst with the spilled apple cider, and the bowl cut was unfortunate), and if the testament of successful parenting is a successful child, my husband and I win first prize. So I approach this final letting-go with, yes, a lump in my throat but the humble satisfaction of feeling parentally accomplished.

But there’s still the matter of someone you love stepping further from your life… regardless of their assigned role, there’s sadness in that.

As adults, we gauge and shift within our peer relationships with a sense of continuity, a certain predictability. We, they, may grow and change in any variety of ways, but we’re fully-formed people by then, and those changes are usually subtle and nuanced. Friends have no reason to leave, to move out, to go off on their own simply because that’s an inevitable part of development. The good ones stay, the birthday celebrations pile up; you grow old together.

With our children, the exact opposite is true. Every day, week, month, year brings a new person into our midst—physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally—and, as parents, our job is to adjust and change as our child requires. What the five-year-old needs is a far cry from the fifteen-year-old, the twenty-five-year old, and we are obligated to sort out how to be the right parent for the right age. But five, fifteen, or twenty-five, and despite the profound changes that come with child-to-adult transitions, our love and attachment sustain. Which makes their departures, their distancing, their independence, heartrending.

In my case, it’s very simple: I enjoy my son’s company. Not just as a parent, but as a person, a friend. He’s smart and aware; he makes me laugh, introduces me to new music, discusses politics with verve. He’s as good a friend as any I’ve got; he tells me this is mutual, and the ease he clearly feels with me and his father makes sharing a space an easy, natural thing to do. So when some people seemed surprised that he was still at home at twenty-five, I felt I had to explain; to assure them he wasn’t some launch-challenged millennial in dirty pajamas playing video games in a crusty bedroom yelling, “Ma, I need a sandwich!” while expecting me to do his laundry.

In fact, the “cool roommate” he was in his younger years only expanded in the post-college era: he continued to be entertaining and companionable, and he paid his own way, did his own laundry, cleaned his own room; even kept our technology in top-running order. Who wouldn’t appreciate a roommate like that?

I saw these post-college years as a bonus, one we didn’t expect, as he, first, looked for a job; got one at an engineering firm nearby, then transitioned to a much better engineering firm downtown, and while he wasn’t around all that much—girlfriend, sports, game nights with buddies—the warm moments around the dinner table or those Q&A sessions after watching Westworld (I mean, wth?) were precious. I took not a one for granted, and chose not to think about when they, too, would end.

But they did. When he finally announced, after a year of commuting from the beach to downtown LA (dear Lord…), that he was ready to find his own place within walking distance of work, I knew we’d reached the last rite-of-passage: the final move-out. It inspired a tear, a lump, an acknowledgement that we were there, but it was so inevitable that it struck gently. Softly. Empty Nest Lite.

Maybe because I so well remember when I first set out on my own. My family life was very different from my son’s, my exit far more fraught, but that sense of independence, of staking a claim to adulthood—from picking the apartment, to finding furniture, towels; pots and pans, feeling fully responsible and free to create whatever life you chose—was equally as exhilarating. I could vicariously feel his excitement at the novelty of autonomy, of planting himself somewhere he’d never lived, opening himself to explore and experience new things. It’s heady; I remember.

So when the day came, we pulled his stuff from storage—the college items, the great pieces saved from our Humboldt house, the selections from his room—and headed to his beautiful, sparkling apartment in a downtown high-rise with windows facing west and a view of the vibrant city and ocean beyond, and helped him start his new life.

I was so focused on the tasks at hand, so impressed by his good taste in the place he chose, so anticipatory of having reason to spend more time in the city, so relieved the move went fairly smoothly, that nary a lump was had the whole day. I felt only that my husband and I had launched our beautiful boy with confidence, knowing he is solid in who he is; joyful in his career, clear about his priorities, and committed to an honorable life.

As my dear friend said, “You did good.” We did. We all did. He’s still deciding on a couch, I’m working on my next book; hubby is taking care of business. Life rolls forward, we breathe… growing up, letting go, and finding new ways to build history.

Of course, this wireless router will now have to be managed without his patient tutelage, but I guess we old folks have to learn and evolve just like everyone else! Dammit. ☺

The End

 

All photos by permission of LDW. Truck photo by Marilyn Perez.

To read the entire series, click below:

• Empty Nest Pt 1: My Very Cool Roommate Is Moving Out…
• Empty Nest Pt 2: Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome…Coming Home
• Empty Nest Pt. 3: See You In November!
Empty Nest Pt. 4: He’s Leaving Home AGAIN… Bye Bye
Empty Nest Pt. 5: It’s a Wrap… Well, Almost

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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Empty Nest Pt. 5: It’s a Wrap… Well, Almost

Dillon_heading_off_to_school_001Wasn’t he just leaving for his first day of school, all sweet and tidy in his new uniform, backpack on and lunch box firmly in hand? Honestly, it seems like just yesterday his teenage self was longboarding down the strand, heading to town for milkshakes and Magic with his buds. And didn’t I just vacuum his bedroom after he left for that first year away at college, the one that inspired my introductory bout of Empty Nest Syndrome? Yes… and yet here we are, closing the campus house and discussing just how nice the weather was on graduation day at Humboldt State University. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!

Like everything else in life happens: in the blink of those flashing, fleeting, sometimes unnoticeable moments in which our existence unfolds in all its transformational glory. LIFE. SPACE. TIME. Those upper case continuums that are so common as to be every-day, yet so profound they elude even the wisest of minds… and certainly rattle my own if I think too hard on the topic! Time… I just want to grab it sometimes and holler, “Wait! Slow down! Can’t I have that one a moment longer??”

I can look at pictures of my son at two or three and remember each tactile sensation of his soft little being at that era of his life: his sweet smell, the weight of his body, the stickiness of his fingers, the cherubic face looking at me with wide blue eyes and a smile that made me feel like the most important person in the world. I can hear the sound of his voice saying, “Hi, mama,” as I walked through a room, the urgency of his hugs when he felt nervous or unsettled; the warmth and gush of his love when we’d go through our “good night” ritual with its songs and stories. Even the moment pictured above – him, thrilled to be off to Valley View Elementary – brings back such poignant, tangible memories that the moment may as well be standing right next to me, so sensorial, immediate, and remembered.

3. grad n' MomAnd yet, standing right next to me, next to his proud father, with his mortar board and green sash (signifying his pledge to “explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider”… gotta love Humboldt State!) is the version of this person that exists today: a tall, slender man with darker hair, stronger arms, but still a smile that touches me like no other. Our grown son. Who graduated from college this weekend with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Resources Engineering; accomplished, brilliant, and ready for the next chapter.

Well… almost.

He says it feels a bit premature, and it is somewhat of a preemptive chapter change in that he’ll be returning for one concluding semester after the summer. His major is a specialized science degree that typically requires five years to complete, given both the demands of the degree and the availability of open seats in a small university. He, however, was able to manage it in four-and-a-half… hence, the one more semester after this one. But his class is the class of 2014 and so he appropriately walked with his classmates: cap, gown, diploma and proud parents, all. Once he wraps in December, our boy will be an official “adult,” one with a college degree, the need for a job, and a life unencumbered by school schedules and campus housing demands. Hooray and… yikes?

He’ll once again be in that bedroom I vacuumed so many years ago, landing there until he finds solid, employed ground under his newly-adult feet. Back in the nest, the home, the family circle; and we’ll be so happy to have him for as long as it takes to launch. I don’t expect it to be long; he’s clear-headed, intelligent; likable, ambitious and focused, and will, no doubt, land something of merit quickly enough that my next chapter will be, “Empty Nest Pt. 6: OK, Now He’s Really Leaving Home.” And that will feel similarly life-changing and gut-wrenching and still so full of pride and admiration that I’ll cry with that weird mix of sorrow and elation; you know the one.

Until that chapter, we’ll relish the time together and celebrate this big, proud, tremendous accomplishment. Congratulations, sweetheart, on a successful college career. Let’s enjoy the summer; you’ll get back and wrap it up, then we’ll be off to what’s next. Isn’t life an adventure?

8. goofy grad behind a tree

All photographs by LDW

To read the entire series, click links below:

Empty Nest Pt 1: My Very Cool Roommate Is Moving Out…
• Empty Nest Pt 2: Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome…Coming Home
• Empty Nest Pt. 3: See You In November!
 •Empty Nest Pt. 4: He’s Leaving Home AGAIN… Bye Bye
• Empty Nest Pt. 5: It’s a Wrap… Well, Almost
Empty Nest Pt. 6, the Final Chapter: With Keys In Hand, He Flies…
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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Empty Nest Pt. 4: He’s Leaving Home AGAIN… Bye Bye

Dillon In Motion

I know I said Pt. 3 was the final installment but apparently he’s leaving home again. With this continuing thing called “college,” Pt. 4 became inevitable.

There seems to be a pattern here: he grows up in a fly-by blink, goes off to achieve higher education; comes home for long summer breaks, but is then compelled to return to that other place he lives that is not here… not home. Though he tends to refer to it in such terms, I’d like to think that’s because no one’s there harping about laundry and keeping the bathroom clean.

It’s interesting how many times and ways you say good-bye to a child throughout their life. It seems to go on forever and maybe that’s the point: that the process of parenthood is evolutionary practice for letting go of so many other salient, important things… even life itself. I don’t know; that may have been too heavy! But whatever else you can say about it, parenting is fraught with the demand to find balance between loving and letting go, and it always seems to find newer and ever more complex ways to test you at that.

It starts early, the pulling away; about the time of toddlerhood, when that three-year-old suddenly puts their foot down about a whole host of things (literally and figuratively). This streak of independence leads to the longer days of kindergarten, full-time grade school with after school programs; then middle school with its natural drift from family to friends, high school with more of the same (including, now, the full-time passion of puberty), all leading up to what one friend’s child called “really big boy school,” college, where all of life twists into the practice version of their truly leaving home. Brutal. Freeing. Confusing. Exhilarating.

In looking through my series on Empty Nest Syndrome (links below), I realize we, here, really are well past that initial rite of passage. He’s into his fourth year of a five-year program and if we hadn’t figured out by now how to gracefully transition from those long summer breaks to the exodus back to school, we’d be in trouble, because the next phase is fast approaching. The Actual Adult phase. When they move out, get a job, get their own place, maybe relocate to another city, fall in love, start building a life… on their own… no strings attached… no “breaks” to assuage the pang of missing them at the dinner table or seeing their bedroom messy, lights on and… occupied.

Me n' Dill 1998-9

Yes, we’re good at this latest transition. We barely blink. He packs up his car for the umpteenth time and heads north with nary a look back and before he can even make the turn onto the freeway, I’m into my day, to my work, to my own life; focused, driven… and with a big, fat, breath-choking lump in my throat. Goddamnit. Why does this still hurt??

Because, at least for me, lucky me, this person, beyond being my son, is one of the best friends I could possibly have. That person who walks into a room and lights up the place. Who sits on the couch and shares idiotic videos he’s sure you’ll find hilarious (which you do). The guy who listens and converses like an interested adult when you take long drives or get caught in traffic. Who introduces you to a new hiking path, turns you onto songs he claims “you’re gonna love,” brings home Pinkberry unexpectedly, or checks in on nights he knows you’re alone and a little blue. That kid. You like having that kid around. And yet, he has to keep leaving…

I don’t cry anymore when he does. Sure, I tear up if I think about it for too long, but I’m busy enough and good enough at self-soothing to just get on with it. And, besides, we’ll be going up for Homecoming, he’ll be home for Thanksgiving, there’ll be that long Christmas break and, well, we still have a few semesters left. That bedroom will continue to be occupied for a bit longer, time we’ll cherish.

Because we know that, too, will end. And when that last grasp of childhood is finally exhausted, and he goes off as the grown man he is, responsible for his own life, I will feel that next layer of peeling away, of letting go; of saying good-bye. Seeing him off to his own house, with his own dinner table and his own bedroom. I can’t picture it yet, I don’t have to… yet… but it’s coming. Just like every other phase of his growing up has come and been embraced, however mixed the emotions. I will deal, as I always do. But, wow. Loving a child is a wild ride.

Drive safely, sweetheart. Stop if you get tired, check in when you can, don’t text and drive, and do good this semester. We love you and will see you soon. Bye, bye….(damnit, I can never find Kleenex when I need it… )

Me n' Dill 13

Younger Duo photo by Dean Fortunato
Older Duo photo by Ben Chandler
Skateboard photo by LDW

To read the entire series, click links below:

Empty Nest Pt 1: My Very Cool Roommate Is Moving Out…
• Empty Nest Pt 2: Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome…Coming Home
• Empty Nest Pt. 3: See You In November!
 •Empty Nest Pt. 4: He’s Leaving Home AGAIN… Bye Bye
• Empty Nest Pt. 5: It’s a Wrap… Well, Almost
Empty Nest Pt. 6, the Final Chapter: With Keys In Hand, He Flies…
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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Empty Nest Pt. 2: Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome…Coming Home

The 19-year old boy-man is coming home for summer break, his first substantial period under our roof since leaving for college in August of 2010, and this event is something to both ponder and celebrate. What used to be a given – his being a daily part of family life – is now a novelty. A delightful novelty, but a novelty nonetheless.  As the woman who birthed the boy, I am left to ponder: how on earth did that happen?

me_&_baby_Dill_001I remain unconvinced that growing up and leaving home is just a required part of the program. In my own case it was but in his…well, somehow it strikes me differently. I’ve always felt if it ain’t broke don’t fix it and we had a pretty unbroken thing going. He was a delightful companion, a relatively responsible roommate (though I admit the early years with the diapers and spoon feedings were a tad one-sided), a stellar entertainer and quite the flexible traveler. There were tantrums, I admit, occasional lapses in academic devotion and the limited food palate could be a challenge, but he was never incorrigible and generally thought we adults were cool.  He was like living with your best friend through the various stages of your best friend’s life right down to the moment he figured out HTML and could build your website — then it just seemed silly to let him go.

But fine. Growing up is mandatory. I get it; I applaud it even, and find this grown child of mine as captivating as the two year old. Which prompts another twist: I still want to hang out with the two-year-old – and the seven-, ten- and 13-year-olds – while I’m living in present-time with the 19-year-old (imagine that scenario: the adult child wrangling his younger selves while I make grilled cheese and chatter happily with my gaggle of time travelers!). Since this option is not offered, the bigger conundrum becomes the current child’s step-by-step and apparently inevitable departure from home. From where he sits, leaving home is an exciting, open-ended adventure to the rest of his life. From my perspective, it’s as if my job description suddenly hit planned obsolescence and, like that aging salesman who’s walked gently to the door with a gold watch in hand, I’m unclear of my relevance in this new era of child development. Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome.

King Dillon

But life is a constant work in progress and I’m leaning into the phase. The truly painful early months post his departure were followed by eventual, if begrudging, acceptance and early-stage construction of a new life formed around the childless home. And it’s a good life. I’m busy and creative and often find the freedom exhilarating. I have more time to myself, more time with my husband, the house is neater, and I don’t have to make school lunches every night. I find true pleasure in knowing how happy he is and how well he’s doing in school. Yes, there were the sometimes-awkward campus visits when he’d sweetly make time despite his clear preference to be with friends; the less awkward visits home when he simply was. I see him try to find the balance between being a considerate son and one who’s rushing inexorably toward the pull of independence. And as much as I cringe at being seen as any kind of obligation, I’m touched that he’s aware there’s a balance to be found. It’s all new territory and the scriptless nature of it will continue into our first summer break.

And what will that be? Will it feel like he’s just visiting for longer than usual between semesters or that he actually still lives at home and just goes away to school from time to time?  I want to believe the latter. I’m pretty sure it’s the former.

cartoon Dill by Ashley Yamasaki rAs we edge closer to this second chapter of Empty Nest, what’s coming into view is the reality that once the child leaves home for that first school year away, nothing is ever quite the same. We will get into familiar rhythms of dinner around a good movie, card games at the table, hikes down to the jetty, meals and plans and trips together, and it will be wonderful and I will cherish every minute. But unlike before, when this was just OUR LIFE, when time stretched before us so wide and open and whatever happened today might happen again tomorrow and we didn’t need to talk about it or look too far ahead because it was just there, unfolding naturally every day; Family. Mother, Father, Son. What it is now is…I don’t know. I’m not sure. We’ll see. Send suggestions.

Because that’s the chapter we’re on. Transitions. Coming back, leaving. Coming back, maybe for a shorter period, then leaving again. Coming back perhaps briefly, then leaving…maybe for good. It’s the damn circle of life and while we gather ’round Pride Rock and sing in celebration of growth and change and finding our way on the path unwinding, it hurts like a mother to let go of your child.

Here’s a question posed to me the other day by someone who meant well but clearly hasn’t been down this road to know the quirks: “Whaddaya want? You want your son to stay at home for the rest of his life, live in his room, never leave, always hanging on to you and his Dad?” Um…kind of? No…hell, no! Stupid question. Reread my paragraph about wanting him simultaneously at all ages of his life and you’ll get what I want, mister.

Dillon&posse_April2011

What I want to happen is exactly what is happening. I want him to embrace his adulthood; slowly and certainly unfolding his passions to discover who he is and what he wants to do with his life. I want him to have an absolute blast in college (within parameters, of course!), do well by his academics and learn a thing or two in the process. I want him to make great friends he’ll probably have for the rest of his life. I want him to continue to discover the wonders of love, taking the lovely manners he’s modeled from his father to always be the loyal, considerate, honorable boyfriend he already is. I want him to be an optimist, an activist, a person who isn’t afraid to stand up and speak out against injustice. I want him to find meaningful work that allows him to make a living doing something he loves. I want him to stay healthy, humorous, honest and humble. (The 4-H’s. There are other letters but I liked the ring of those!) Basically, I want him to continue on his course of growing up, which he is doing spectacularly.

And yet…I still want my boy. The paradox of motherhood, yes?

Books and articles and other mothers tell me I will always be needed, will always be somewhere on his radar. I believe that. I trust that my son will be a good adult son. He’s already a good almost-adult son and that he’s doing even with the distractions of college, love, and his first year of independent living. He seems to understand the paradox and finds ways to bridge the gaps: he set us up to play Internet Scrabble, allowing him to literally (as in words) kick my ass daily; we’re Facebook friends, he texts whenever there’s something of note to report and he actually sounds happy to hear from me when I call. And though he’s not great at returning emails and we sometimes go too long between conversations, he still tells me “we’re best friends, Mom.” I’m counting on it, sweetheart.

kayaking

He’ll be home in a few days for three months. It feels like a glorious lifetime of time. I plan to use it well. We’ll all use it well. And when it’s over, I know it won’t be as painful as the last time he said good-bye. Empty Next. We will stumble through, figuring it out; it’ll get easier.

Cue the singing wildebeest….

____________________________

To read the entire series, click links below:

Empty Nest Pt 1: My Very Cool Roommate Is Moving Out…
• Empty Nest Pt 2: Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome…Coming Home
• Empty Nest Pt. 3: See You In November!
 •Empty Nest Pt. 4: He’s Leaving Home AGAIN… Bye Bye
• Empty Nest Pt. 5: It’s a Wrap… Well, Almost
Empty Nest Pt. 6, the Final Chapter: With Keys In Hand, He Flies…

All photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Empty Nest Pt. 1: My Very Cool Roommate Is Moving Out…

motarboard toss

Mortarboards have been thrown, transcripts sent, dorm walls measured, orientation trips planned. All set. All good to go. Congrats on the success, good luck on the next chapter and, wo-hoo, we just couldn’t be prouder. It’s time to let go and launch the child and all I know is…my very cool roommate is moving out and I’m going to miss him.

There are various Rites of Passage we go through in life: Teething, Puberty, Anxious 30’s, Mid-Life (Crisis or Otherwise), Menopause (male & female), Damn 50’s, Really Old and, finally, Facing Death. They all have capital letters. And each comes with an unwrittenprincipal's award guide that gets us through the shoals with instruction and reassurance that whatever we’re thinking/feeling/experiencing is simply part of the phase, hang on, we’re all going through it, nothing to be afraid of.

For example, no matter what’s going on with a child during the pre-mastication era, no matter what symptoms or behaviors, no worries, it’s “Just Teething.” Fevering madly? Teething. Screaming for dear life? Teething. Eating dirt with enthusiasm? Teething. And Puberty? Every whine-fest, meltdown, door-slam, anxiety-attack, hair-flinging stomp out of the kitchen is ascribed to the unavoidable transition from childhood to hormones.  God forbid a real crisis is in bloom, we’re convinced it’s “Just Puberty.” A few decades later we follow with another version of the same…except with the added burden of being closer to Facing Death. That would be Menopause with all its sweaty, mood-swinging confusion.  Of course, there are also the phases of Marriage and Parenthood. Not everyone will go through these but most will and most who experience Parenthood will ultimately face the classic Rite of Passage known as Empty Nest Syndrome, ENS. Let’s pull that one out of the pack.

JgradIt’s a worthy topic this time of year when yet another fresh batch of graduating 18-year-olds and their beleaguered parents are faced with this unavoidable and monumental transition. It might be instructional to break it down. Because here’s the truth: like all other phases of life, all other Rites of Passage – whether teething, teening, or reluctantly senioring – None Of It Is the Same for All Of Us. No advice, no analysis, no remedy applies unanimously. We’re All Going Through Our Own Version. Of Everything. You may be gleefully booking your cruise for September or planning that first post-child remodel on the house, but I’m not. I’m dealing with the fact that I had a very cool roommate for 18 years and now he’s moving out.  And I’m going to miss him.

This may seem like a weird analogy, perhaps an overly morbid one, but there’s something here akin to How We Deal With Death. It’s no secret that everyone grieves differently and pretty much everyone struggles with how to talk to grieving folk. When my father died, I was struck by how off-putting I too often found the well-meaning person who’d ask how old he was (72) only to respond, “Well, at least he lived a nice long life.” My thought:  not really. 72 seems a tad young to me. And whatever, I don’t care if he was 97, he was still my father and he’s still dead and I’m still sad. Or when they’d hear he died in his sleep and would say, “Well, at least he died peacefully,” and I’d want to holler, “So what?? He died and I’m really sad and that comment doesn’t make me feel any better!” I learned by subjective experience that the only safe thing to say to a person suffering a loss is: “I’m so sorry to hear about your loss.” If you know the deceased, say something personal and authentic like: “Your Dad was a really great guy…I liked him a lot.” That sort of thing is always appreciated…too many people are afraid to actually talk about the person who died and the grieving party likes nothing better. But the point is, don’t say anything that smacks of generic, patronizing Guidebook Speak; it doesn’t help.

What, you may be thinking, does any of this have to do with Empty Nest Syndrome? A lot, actually. Because ENS is, quite simply, about loss. And like Death and all these other Rites of Passage, it’s completely and utterly unique for each person and requires a certain wisdom in response. May I suggest a few very subjective pointers?

1.  Don’t tell me “It’s his time to fly…you just have to let him go.” I already know that. Don’t insult my intelligence orLighthouse with Dillon imply inordinate neediness on my part by making the point. No one wants him to fly more than I do. Nor is anyone more aware that it’s time to let go. Just say, “Oh, honey, I understand…you’re going to miss him…it’ll get better.” That’s all that’s needed.

2.  Refrain from: “You’ll need to find some new things to focus on, to keep yourself busy and distracted after he leaves.” No, I don’t. I have plenty to do. I was busy and distracted while he was here and I’ve still got all my projects, work, husband, friends, hobbies, household tasks, creative endeavors, etc. He was hardly ever around anyway so it’s not about filling time. It’s just that I’m going to miss him. Ask me how he’s doing in college and come with me to a movie.

dill with headphones 001sm3. Try to avoid: “You’ll be surprised how nice it’ll be when you don’t have to do his laundry or look at his messy room anymore.” That’ll be surprising? I’ve been looking forward to that for years. But frankly, regardless of dirty clothes or the bomb site that is his room, I’ve always loved knowing he was down the hall, ready to wake up and make me laugh, help me with my website or talk to me about his girlfriend. If you know me, you’ll understand why I might be found napping on the well-made bed in his empty room every once in a while. Don’t call the shrink…it’s my own form of therapy.

4.  Don’t bother with: “But he’ll come home for breaks and summers, right?” We all know that once the family system embraces the Initial Departure, it’s never quite the same as Before They Left. We can’t pretend. We’ve all got to adjust, you can just say it.

5. And PLEASE, do not send articles from Psychology Today that analyze ENS and suggest therapy or herbs or calming pharmaceuticals. I’m not having a breakdown; my kid is just leaving home.

Rachell's cardParenthood is one of the few relationships that comes with planned obsolescence. We go into it fully knowing we’ve got to leap now and let go later. There’s no other such deal in life: we get married and the plan is till death do us part. It doesn’t always work out but that’s the idea…we aren’t typically required to give it up at a preordained time. Same with friends; we make a great friend and there is absolutely no reason to believe we can’t keep them through the dotage years. A loving pet is under our feet and in our beds until the very end.

But a child? We get them only for a while. We know that this one relationship, this special, amazing, unique and glorious relationship, is going to change and develop and transform every minute of every day and in about 18 years time, will naturally evolve away from us in a way that is inevitable and irreversible. It’s the Circle of Life, the Coming of Age, the Passing of the Mantle. It’s perfect and painful at the same time.

But know this: Most of us suffering from ENS need no advice. No drugs, no therapy, no words of wisdom. We know what is happening and we know it must happen. We’re proud of our children, proud of ourselves for our part in their success. We’re excited for the new adventures they’ll embrace and vicariously thrilled by their flight. We’re ready to welcome them back for the moments they’ll briefly return but have no delusion about keeping them forever in their cozy childhood rooms. We’re the ones gently, lovingly, pushing them out the door to their inevitable independence. We’re good parents and we know what we’re supposed to do.

Cambria shore 2006 007

But still…I had a very cool roommate for 18 years and now he’s moving out. And I’m really going to miss him.

To read the rest of the series (so far!):

• Empty Nest Pt 2: Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome…Coming Home
• Empty Nest Pt. 3: See You In November!
 Empty Nest Pt. 4: He’s Leaving Home AGAIN… Bye Bye
 Empty Nest Pt. 5: It’s a Wrap… Well, Almost
Empty Nest Pt. 6, the Final Chapter: With Keys In Hand, He Flies…

 

All photographs courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke 

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.