“You’re an empty nester now. How do you like living alone?”
I’ve been asked this frequently since my youngest daughter moved out last month. Honestly? I don’t always like it. Some days, I absolutely hate it.
The word “nest” reminds me of being pregnant with my oldest daughter and moving into a new house 3 months before my due date. I spent those months lining cabinet shelves, folding her little onesies and tucking them into her dresser just so. My mom said I was “nesting.” Now my nest is not only empty, it had a gaping hole in it to begin with.
I didn’t ask to spend the last part of my life alone. Todd was supposed to be with me when our kids moved out. I’m not disappointed with my daughter for moving; after all, she moved out of her dorm and back home after Todd died to make sure I was okay, and it’s time for her to claim her independence. But, I didn’t choose this future.
Sure, I can do what I want when I want to: leave dishes in the sink until I feel like washing them, vacuum at midnight, monopolize the remote. Whoopee.
But, when I freak out over wildfires in Australia and bombings in Iran, I don’t have any one to talk me down. Nightmares? My dog licks my face. Hopes, goals, dreams? Write them down. Stomach viruses, fevers, doctor visits? Suck it up. Get your own Tylenol, Sue.
To an outsider, I look like I’m doing okay. I work 2 jobs, pay bills, get my oil changed regularly, pay a kid to cut my grass in the summer. I go to the high school football field to practice my disc drives. I work on my putts in the backyard. I write. I read. My dad calls me every day. I see my daughters every day. And, my youngest daughter did bring me 7Up when I was sick a few weeks ago. Yeah, I’m okay.
But okay isn’t fantastic.
Okay isn’t happy.
Social media likes to push the idea that the key to happiness is first being happy with yourself by yourself. I get it, and this advice might be valid if I was 19 or recently divorced. But, I’m not. Lack of self-worth isn’t my issue. (Also, it’s pretty ironic that people turn to social media for affirmation that being happy without other humans is possible.)
The issue is that humans are social creatures. Neuroscientists have found that connecting with other humans is as fundamental to our well being as food and water. My issue is that I am alone; I’ve lost my most valued human connection. Not having that fundamental connection in my life hurts.
I didn’t choose this future without Todd. I live each day the best I can without the vibrant happiness that I had with him, and I want to be more than “okay.” How do I do that? How does anyone find happiness again when they are forced into a solo existence?
I was thinking about what I’ve been doing to cope and move beyond “okay” when I ran across this excerpt from one of my favorite books–The Once and Future King by T.H. White. In the excerpt, Merlyn explains to a young King Arthur how to overcome sadness. White writes:
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake in the middle of the night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
This quote holds so much truth! For nearly two years after Todd died, my brain wouldn’t work. The trauma of coping with his sudden death left me foggy and muddled. At the 20 month mark, I began to want to do things again; I had an interest in living. My attention allowed me to read books again. I wanted to learn to write better so I joined two writing groups. I began to learn to play disc golf. Throwing a disc as far as I can on the course gives me a tinge of the giddy joy I felt with Todd.
I still miss my most valued human connection–I’ll never have him back again. I still hate not having a best friend and partner in which to confide and by whom to be loved. I remind myself often that I was lucky enough to have been deeply loved and to have loved deeply in this lifetime.
I’m patching up that Todd-sized hole in my nest with the joy I find in plastic discs, poetry, and books, feathering it with love from my family and my suddenly grown-up daughters. I’m okay, with a tinge of happy.