Empty nests, broken hearts

How today’s ultra-engaged parents suffer when their children take flight

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Published in The United Church Observer in December 2016

Last year, after snapping new striped sheets onto my daughter’s dorm-room bed at McMaster University in our hometown of Hamilton, I barely made it down the hallway before dissolving into tears in the elevator.

My husband and I squeezed hands on the drive home with a combination of parental pride and aching loss. Ruby was going to be a mere 10 minutes away, but I knew the distance between us was bound to widen.

Never again would I experience the casual intimacy of day-to-day life with her bounding in the door after school, juggling textbooks and sharing news of her day. Her adult life was beginning, but a big part of mine felt like it was ending.

The first few weeks after she was gone, I fought the urge to text her. I didn’t want to be a meddling mom. I forbade myself from looking at baby pictures or the kindergarten drawings I still kept in a special box. Doing so would only release the floodgates.

I shut her bedroom door so I wouldn’t see the mint green and pink baby quilt spread out on her bed when I passed by. Mostly, I held it together.

At least until the day I vacuumed her room and caught sight of the stuffed green Grinch high on a shelf. My daughter had loved that soft toy, purchased more than 15 years ago when I was on a business trip.

It became her favoured snuggly our conversation thin after more than 30 years of marriage and without the kids there to fill it out.

Soon, it will just be the two of us, pushing our peas around the plate, the scrape of knife against china echoing through the emptiness of a four-bedroom house that will feel too big and a life that will feel too small.

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