Tuesday, October 13, 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed...

I learned firsthand the painful reality behind the term empty nest. I felt the intense emptiness for weeks after Jessica's departure, especially each day when getting home from school and not finding her there to talk...listen...and decompress from our day. Also after getting ready for bed we would often share a quieter time during which we would talk about anything and everything that was on our minds...these were especially treasured moments for me. There were many tears shed throughout those weeks because my sense of loss was profound. With the major changes in my role as a mother, I found I had more unscheduled time for myself, although it took me several weeks to be truly ready and open to the realities of what this change could mean, and how this time of transition and adjustment could offer me a variety of choices. There were all types of potential opportunities for me to ponder and the only stipulation was my degree of willingness to be open. Here was my chance to consider only those experiences that appealed to me. I remember thinking these endless possibilities must be the upside of the empty nest phenomenon...and I smiled.

I enrolled in a calligraphy class which quickly engaged my creative juices, I joined a Bible study group that Suzanne offered which fed my spiritual hunger, and I began to meditate which gave my overly active mind a chance to experience a new-found quiet. All in all I was experiencing life in a fresh, expansive way that tasted quite remarkable. Did I continue to miss Jessica's daily presence in my life? Absolutely! But I was gradually able to move toward a place of acceptance of this new and different phase in my life and thereby become open to the growth and change it offered me.

During this time I knew there was an area of my life due for a tune-up...our marriage. Since Jim and I then had the time, maybe we could both focus some of that time and energy on our relationship because merely sharing a physical space does not a marriage make. So many people described Jim as a "great guy" and that description was absolutely true. He was a good guy through and through, and I loved him dearly, but something that concerned me was the lack of quality time we spent together. We often chose to spend our free time in totally different ways, but it became my hope that we would find some mutually satisfying activities that we could enjoy doing together. To be fair, I must admit that this lack of quality togetherness bothered me much more that it bothered Jim. He felt we were spending quality time if we sat in the same room and watched an evening of TV together...me, not so much. I was hungry for something more, but I didn't know exactly what that meant or how to achieve it. As Jessica was growing up it seemed as though the time Jim and I spent with each other was usually for family-centered activities rather than just the two of us spending time as a couple. I had never been aware of this fact during that time, but believe me, it became clearly evident after Jessica went off to college! There was nothing like lots of available free time staring me in the face, and not being able to find a suitable way to spend time together, so we'd settle on going out for dinner...if only we could agree on a restaurant. Are you getting a sense of my struggle? Hindsight is wonderful because I am able to sit here over twenty years later and smile at our crude but terribly sincere attempts we both encountered along the way of discovering togetherness...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Stress Relief...Oh My!

Have you ever been so tired that everything around you seemed funny? Well, that's exactly how Jim and I were feeling by the time we made it to Chicago. Emotionally drained and totally sleep deprived would be an accurate description of us in the early hours of that Sunday morning as we pulled into the gas station. Yes, the laughing started when we exited our car and froze our bums while attempting to fill the gas tank, but that was only the beginning of what turned into an uncontrollable scene that played out in the frigid air of the aptly named Windy City. No matter what we tried to say, we were not able to restrain our laughter...merely looking at each other sent us into a powerless mass of giggles. At one point Jim commented that the gas station attendant was going to think we were having trouble keeping our behavior under control because we were on drugs. Well, those words of warning certainly fell on deaf ears, while encouraging our creativity to run wild as we began constructing possible headlines for our local newspaper...First Grade School Teacher Arrested With Husband in Chicago on Possible Drug Abuse Charges! Just the thought of that headline did anything but rein in my hysterics. In fact, not only was I not laughing in a normal manner, but I was doubled over, letting out a snort that sounded a lot like a pig...oh my!

After making it safely back into our car, I had to admit that all the unleashed outpouring of silliness was exactly what I needed in order to shake off the emotional upheaval of the previous twenty-four hours. I felt like a dog who just had been given a bath and needed to shake free all the annoying leftover water dripping off its back. I was no longer burdened by the emotional release that had taken place within the confines of our car for the last fifteen hours.

When we finally made it home, we slept for the rest of the day. There was no way I could spend my first day of school exhausted, so sleep was a necessity. It felt strange that we didn't need to ask Jessica to turn down her music to help give us the quiet we needed. Instead, our house already seemed too quiet. Is that how our "empty nest" was going to sound without the activity and energy of a teenager? It was most definitely a time of transition in our marriage, and I wanted us to take this transition slowly, hoping that going slowly may take away some of the "sting" of loss and replace it with new possibilities for us to explore. Yikes! Jim and I having more one-on-one time together...oh my!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

After the Goodbye

The whirlwind trip of bringing Jessica to college had finally come to a poignant climax. With my school beginning on Monday I felt we should leave DC no later than Saturday night, even though I sincerely wanted to stay as long as possible before having to face the dreaded goodbye. When it came time for us to leave, the three of us headed down to our car for the initial phase of farewells. Jessica and I shared raw emotions of love and gratitude toward each other, while flavoring it with heartfelt tears and fond memories, so many memories over so many years together. This was quickly followed by an embrace hinting at the understanding that it would be several months before we would again share the same air...a hug that I wished could go on indefinitely, but since we all knew it was time for us to go, we shared on final group hug. In the meantime, through all of this emotional outpouring, Jim was able to remain calm, so at least one of us was capable of driving back to Wisconsin. I watched and waved as Jessica became a mere dot in the background of the CUA campus, and by that time I had quite simply melted into a puddle of seemingly endless sobs.

As we left Washington and throughout many of the seventeen hours traveling back home I continued sobbing, surprising even myself with the depth of sadness and loss that I felt. I needed to understand that there were two simple realities forming the foundation for my sense of loss and grief. First, my "little girl" and I were on the threshold of entering into a brand new phase of our relationship, a strangely different and totally unknown connection in which we would both participate as adults and secondly, from that day forward whenever Jessica would be at our home she would be a visitor. While watching my daughter as she had become that tiny dot, she had turned back to her dorm, entering it as a young adult who was independently living on her own in the great big world. I had comprehended this transition back in Madison as I had spent the previous year mentally preparing for her leaving, but living through the realism of this transition was especially more difficult for my heart to accept. This was a bitter pill of reality for me to swallow...indeed.

I was useless in the shared driving department because it seemed as though each time I would begin feeling peacefully calm, the tranquility would be abruptly interrupted by a flash of remembrance that would begin the flow of tears. There would be no advanced warning, simply heartrending sadness that had no boundaries. I don't think Jim had much fun on that trip home until we came to a truck stop in the Chicago area. You see, when we left Washington it was around eighty degrees so we were dressed for that weather. We had no clue that the Midwest was experiencing a sudden drop in temperature, down around forty degrees! Can you imagine our surprise when we exited the car to fill the tank with gas? We felt as though we were dressed for Florida and ended up in Alaska. With our lack of sleep along with all the emotions swirling around inside our car for the last fifteen hours, we both needed some comic relief, and this frigid weather provided the perfect humorous material. I thought Jim looked funny as he filled the gas tank because his whole body was shivering from standing outside in this ridiculous weather, and he was laughing at how equally silly I looked in my summer outfit... and that's how it all started.