I gaze into the face of a friend who has sought out my living room. She tells me of her floundering, her emptiness and feelings of loss after dropping her daughter off at college a few weeks ago.
“Mothering is what I know, Denise! And if anyone else tells me to be grateful she’s at a southern California university certain celebrity women are committing fraud to have their child attend, I think I’ll scream!”
“I get her success and place of study have little to do with feeling lost and empty. Bottom-line those years of nurturing this young life are in the past. And a life is changing.”
Perched on my sofa with her legs up, she doesn’t appear to hear my words. Suddenly she begins again, “The quiet is so deafening, Denise, I think I’ll go crazy.”
“Wasn’t it a few months ago you were ranting about senioritis and teen drama so intense you were threatening to drive her across America then and there?” We both smile. Then break out laughing.
“Yeah, that was me.” She takes another drink of her coffee.
“She’s ready for this step, Sarah, and you know she’s fine.” I rest my hand on her arm and squeeze.
“I know. I know. She couldn’t be happier.” She wrinkles her brow and shakes her head. “But I miss her.” Tears well up at the rim of her eyes. A few moments of silence ensue.
“I remember feeling the same way, but you need this time, friend. My hope for you is you will use it to take care of yourself for a change. Afterall, you matter, too.”
Several years out from the beginning of my own empty-nest stint, I can look back with some relief. My hope is she will not begin my pattern of living for the moments her child will re-enter for semester breaks and Christmas. My mother’s words still ring in my ears, “Denise, you’ve done your job, a job you can be proud of, stop living for your children. They are fine! This is your time. Find. Your. Life.” My mother tended to shove things down like medicine in a sugary spoon.
As I am quiet and sit with her, I cannot help but wish I could bathe Sarah in what I’ve come to understand. If only she were ready. Please be sure to soak in times of thoughtfulness, splash on the deepening of neglected friendships, and most of all, shake out new ways to invest precious time. She senses I am thinking, but not sharing my thoughts.
“What words do you have for me?” she asks rather pointedly as if one word from me will wash this all away.
“Take this one day at a time and don’t be hasty. This, too, will settle and clarity will find you. Until then, I am here for you. Come over anytime.”