Turning the Empty Nest from Loss to Fulfillment:
There was a brief, precious moment of time when my darling adult daughter Jody lived in our guest house. There was an equally brief, precious moment when my beloved son, his wife and our grandson and we lived in the same town: within walking distance. Sigh.
These are the 2000’s, when one’s aspirations to live in tightly-bonded community with family are so often trumped by practical considerations. There are many, like us, whose children and grandchildren have been scattered far and wide pursuing educational or career opportunities that can’t be found locally.
Of course, we want our children independent and launched. But we also want to be part of their daily lives. Skype, phone, email, IM and Tango included, there’s nothing like the arms of your offspring around your neck in one of those divine hugs that feels like nothing less than heaven reaching down to embrace the earth.
These thoughts are top of mind today because this evening, Dan and I get to board a plane to London in anticipation of one of these great family hugs with our daughter Jody. We haven’t seen her since Christmas—the longest dry spell in the over two decades since she was born. Needless to say, we can’t wait.
Shortly thereafter, I’m heading to Nashville to see my son’s family for the first time since Easter. Already, the clock is ticking away the nano-seconds in advance of this joy-filled reunion.
The anticipation is sweet and uncomplicated as I clear my schedule for both these outings to take fullest advantage of every moment. I know that between visits, I miss out on so many of the details of everyday life that I would so dearly love to be part of. But I also know that no matter how much I miss my family between visits, we are intimately involved in each other’s lives in a way that defies appearances.
But it hasn’t always been so uncomplicated for me. In fact, each time I heard that the moving boxes were on their way, I felt the floor drop out from beneath my feet. I did my best to put on a brave face, but I wasn’t fooling anybody. I was mortally afraid that with the added miles between us, the bonds of family would be stretched to the breaking point. Would I lose touch with my daughter? Would my grandson forget me? Was I being left behind?
Moaning about this with a wise friend over a cup of tea, I shared my deepest, most heart-rending concerns. In point of fact, I was sobbing into my cup. But then she told me something that completely turned it around for me.
“How did you feel about Santa Claus when you were a kid?”
“It was the most special, magical thing I could imagine,” I replied.
“And how often did Santa come?”
The light bulb went off.
“Just once a year.”
“So, Carol. If Santa can be all that to you just once a year, so can you be that to your offspring. You can be that special, magical presence in your children’s and grandson’s life even if it’s months or even a year between visits. Just don’t waste any more of your life and especially your precious time together over-complicating things. If ever there was a call for ‘Be Here Now’, this is it.”
I got it. Deep in my bones. Imagine if Santa were to slip down the chimney and arrive with tears on his cheeks after every year’s absence, saying: “I thought you stopped loving me, that you forgot about me and didn’t care about me anymore.”
No, instead, Santa arrives in his full glory, full of love and spirit, timeless and omnipresent.
And so it is that I have found the Santa Claus solution. I am now no less than Santa mom and Santa Grandma. I claim all the intimacy of relationship so strong, so powerful, so loving, it is a connection that transcends all time and all space.
When I hug Jody tomorrow and my son, his wife and my grandson in a couple of weeks, there will be nary a trace of remorse, regret, doubt or guilt. I shall be simply present in the fullness of my love. And to that I say: “Ho Ho Ho.”