My youngest child, my daughter, moved out two weeks ago to start her life at university. I am grateful that my husband, who travels for work for weeks at a time, has been home since she left. It has made the transition less lonely and less scary.
Over the last two years, I have been feeling the loss of our kids from my life as my daughter’s work life and social life took her out of the house most evenings and weekends. With Dan away so much, I have spent a lot of time alone, particularly because I work from home as well. After 22 years of parenting, with both my kids and all of their friends, coming and going from our home, I have felt like I am in a vacuum from which all of the laughter, chaos and energy, has been removed. The loneliness has been exacerbated by Dan’s absence and by the fact that I seemed to be grieving alone.
With Dan away so much, he has not felt the absence of the kids as I have. But all of that changed over last three weeks. It is as if Dan has woken from a dream to see that his reality has shifted overnight. He was choked up when we dropped our daughter off at the university. He has been feeling sad when he notices that the kids’ rooms are relatively empty and tidy. He has been grieving our parenting years which seemed to pass so quickly. While I too have been grieving, I am delighted to have him on board; not because misery loves company, but because I feel like I am no longer grieving this loss alone.
The situation reminds me of my first pregnancy. After eight months of pestering Dan to paint the baby’s room, I just started to do it myself. He took over the project when he caught me standing on a step ladder, paint brush in hand, with my 8-month belly protruding from my sweat pants. It seemed that, for the first time, he go it; that there really was a child coming into our lives in less than 5 weeks. To Dan’s credit, he has admitted openly and honestly that he has been in denial. Intellectually, he knew that our last child was leaving home, but he had not digested that reality emotionally.
So, an unexpected thing has happened over the last few weeks; grace has sprung from our shared grief. We have started talking again. We never really stopped talking but, over the last 30 years, like many other couples juggling kids and jobs, so much of our talking has been directed towards the logistics of our lives; the housework that needs to be done; the bills that need to be paid; who is doing the taxes; who is picking up the kids. The first week after our daughter left, we were both quiet with our feelings. But over the last week, we started talking about things I have wanted to talk about for the last two years; selling our family home which now feels far to big; possible investments that might help us to pay for our retirement; ideas about where we might move to; dreams for our future; and issues in our relationship.
The talking has not been easy. It has been incredibly honest. It has been relatively free of rancor. It has been tinged with the hard recognition that we are preparing for the final stages of our lives. With Dan’s mother gone and my mother lost to dementia, we can see that, if we are lucky, we may only have another 10 to15 years of good health left. There is a reckoning. We have been so busy over the last 30 years, that we did not notice the passage of time. So the question in our late 50’s is, “What do we want to do with the good years that are left?” and “Do these new dreams fit together?” Scary questions after 30 years, but healthy questions. Questions, which strangely, make me feel closer to Dan than I have felt for years.