“We must let go of the life we planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”
Parents are delivered into their empty nest in a multitude of ways, across different spans of place and time. Some run longingly, while others drag their feet. For most it’s a chance to reclaim your house and date night, while forging a new adult relationship with your children. Sadly, for others, it marks the end of a relationship that can no longer be sustained – a dissolution of a family under one roof. Whatever category you fall into, parents eventually see their empty nest as a new beginning.
We are given different layers of life, each seasoned with a distinct flavor that may feel foreign to our palate at first. Initially, the empty nest is that strange inedible taste you swear you’ll never like.
My husband, Sam, and I are in the midst of ‘Raising the Roof’ on our not so empty nest, a Craftsman style home near Richmond, VA. It’s a complete shift from the Williamsburg style homes we’d raised our two children in. Much of our life now, is a change of direction from where we were – literally and figuratively. In my last blogpost I mentioned our daughter, Samantha. I also spoke of vulnerability and being brave. Lessons in the art of being vulnerable and brave enough began in 1983 with the birth of our son.
Other than the first two and a half years of marriage, my husband and I have never lived “the life we planned.” Who does. There was indeed, a different life waiting in the wings. A life altering game changer. Our first child, Preston, was born with hydrocephalus, which led to various developmental and health conditions – as the saying goes: I could write a book (stay tuned). For the purpose of this blog I will say that he had red hair, blue eyes, an amazing energy force and a great sense of humor. Oh, and yes, he had Cerebral Palsy and multiple disabilities.
As game changers go, the year we sent our daughter off to college and became empty nesters in the most horrific way was unfathomable. Watching her car pull away we were met with an onslaught of emotions. As we walked back into the house I was floored by its quiet, empty feeling. How could it change so quickly? She’d left a thousand times before. I knew in my freshly wounded heart it was WHAT her leaving represented. She would never again come bounding through the door after a day at school, talking a mile a minute about the essentials in her world. Hanging out in the kitchen together while she grabbed a snack as I prepared dinner, remains one of my most cherished memories. We continued to talk about her new collegiate essentials over the phone. But it was the constant, the consistent, the up close and personal that comforted our hearts.
I’m sure that if I had an audio playback of the weeks after Samantha left I would laugh a very heartfelt laugh at how sad I was, and how very far I’ve come.
I thought of the early years when I craved five solitary minutes! When the Staples back-to-school commercial ran and I got so excited I would sing along as loudly as possible. It WAS the most wonderful time of the year! I did this while raising my hands in the air, making it clear to my kids that indeed, my cause for celebration was immeasurable!
Now, as a veteran empty nester, I’m experiencing back to school through the eyes of the next generation of family and friends. Smiling soft smiles as I view posted photos, remembering how fleeting those years are.
As the initial months of college and life passed, our family slipped into a comfortable rhythm to which we all moved. Preston continued to participate in his day program and loved being a greeter at various places in the community. Before we knew it Christmas break was upon us. Time to Raise the Christmas Roof! We were so excited to have everyone home for more than a fleeting weekend. I’d decked the halls with more than my usual ridiculous adornment of fresh greenery and multiple trees!
Just days after Samantha’s arrival, the Grinch came in the form of a flu bug that found everyone but Sam. Our ideal family Christmas wasn’t starting out too well. Due to a pre-existing condition, Preston required a brief hospitalization. As I recovered at home, I spoke to the guys while they were in the ER. Preston was already feeling better, as treatment had begun. Sam put him on the phone, he sounded great. I told him – “I love you and I will see you tomorrow.” I secretly wished he’d be able to come home the following day.
Preston went home…
He died, peacefully, in his sleep, five days before Christmas.
We had become a chapter in “the Storybook of Life.” The one you read and then say: I can’t imagine what I’d do if… I lost a child. We couldn’t either. One of our life compasses was gone. We were adrift in a black abyss. Vacant and damaged. Our roof had come crashing down on us.
We crumbled inwardly into tiny little pieces. Jagged and misshapen.
We hurt beyond any reasonable hurt. An unknowable hurt. We cried until we didn’t think we could cry anymore. We cried some more.
Then eventually, we realized – we must begin again.
And life beneath our roof waited patiently as we fell in love with life again.
It’s been almost seven years now, since that day that’s indelibly etched into our heart strings. Forever written into every tomorrow. That which I cannot change. And while there are, still, somedays that grief takes us rigidly by the hand for a walk we don’t want to go on. Those grief walks of ours – both hard and exhausting, yet enlivening and curative, have allowed us to see the world in a unique way: with a broader scope and a deeper sense of love. By emptying ourselves of the darkness…the mourning, we’ve been led down a path of, mostly, peaceful grieving. For with every exquisite step we become filled with a little more light.
This exercise in love and loss – grounded by the very roots from the “trees of life” we have touched along the way, is ultimately what helped us to raise our roof a little higher and open our hearts a bit wider with each passing year.
Wherever you are in your Storybook of Life, may you find enlightenment, friendship and courage as you navigate through the universe beneath your roof. Whether you’re feeling a huge void underneath your roof, or your roof and your world seem overwhelming. It won’t crush you. I promise.
Remember that each moment is as fleeting as a feather carried on a swift breeze, one moment floating lazily in front of you, the next, quickly scattering in the wind to a destination unknown.
When you Raise The Roof. Raise it high! Celebrate every last thing that lives and breathes beneath it.
As the brilliant, Mary Oliver once asked, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Well, Mary, I plane to LIVE IT – each precious day… boldly, passionately and lovingly.