The Empty Nest

There’s a bird’s nest inside this birdhouse outside my window.

Today I sit and watch as two little wrens go in and out. They fly away, return, then leave again. There are chicks in that nest, I think.

I marvel at the energy and devotion of the two parents, for both of them are involved in the feeding of these babies. Their search for food on endless flights seems to occupy every single moment of the day. Hard workers, are these little birds. And demanding are the babies.

One day, and I likely won’t see it happen, the babies will leave the nest to fly away, as will the parents. The nest will sit empty inside the birdhouse for weeks, months, nearly a year I suppose, until the next breeding season.

What will those hard-working parents do? How will they spend their time now? Do they realize it is but a reprieve until next season, next year, when they will be back at this hard work again? Or perhaps, with a limited view of time cycles and the future, do they fly away with a song, set free at last?

In either case, I suspect they rest, and play, if birds can play. Maybe they soak in the sun on their backs, ruffle their feathers in a soft breeze, and drink in the fresh and cool summer rains.

Our children have left this nest, but we have not. We are still here. But the nest feels empty now with the cessation of incessant needs, and the purpose that energized our flights back and forth dissipated.

How will we spend our our time now?

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The top twelve things on my mind

The top twelve things on my mind first thing this morning:

  1. My mom – Tuesday is the 3-year anniversary of my mother’s death.
  2. My health – I frequently have anxiety upon waking. My sleep is restless and I never know if it will be 3:00 am, 4:30 am, or 6:45 am when I wake. Anything before 6:00, and I stay in bed.
  3. My 2nd son – He has been unemployed for some time and continues to look for a job.
  4. My husband – His body is warm as he sleeps here beside me. He came to bed last night very disappointed in the Bengals’ performance in the playoff game. I save myself those ups and downs by maintaining a lack of interest in most sports.
  5. My youngest son – He is in Hong Kong for two weeks on a business trip. His days are my nights.
  6. My daughter – Will we be able to work out a quick visit to Chicago in the next few weeks to help her with an upcoming move?
  7. My oldest son – He and his wife are expecting a third child in June.
  8. My mother-in-law – I should call her today and see if she wants me to go to her doctor’s appointment with her this week.
  9. Things to do today –  I added several items to the “today” list on my Wunderlist phone app before I got out of bed. I love that app. It’s very satisfying to click items off when they’re done.
  10. Bathroom design – A remodel for our bath is overdue. It is a complicated space and the design is not straightforward, but we’re getting close. I took a few more measurements this morning to try to visualize how things will fit and look. I keep a tape measure in there for this specific purpose.
  11. The weather – I heard rain falling when I let Arthur out the front door (I did not accompany him today.) Then through the laundry room window I saw the rain turn to snow in the light that shines from above the garage door. I took a few quick photos with my cell phone. (Whatever did I do before I had this handy device?) This photo is going to do triple duty as my photo-of-the-day for the 365Project, my post of the WordPress weekly photo challenge for “Weight(less)”, and an image for this page.
  12. What to blog about. ‘Nuff said.

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The snow has weight, because gravity causes it to fall, or float, from the sky. But each little snowflake is nearly weightless by our typical standards. The wind was able to blow the flakes horizontally.

 

Hello again. It’s been a while

I seem to have lost my get-up-and-go, or maybe I should say, my sit-down-and-type. How are you making it through the winter?

I stopped by here and was surprised to see that my last post was two months ago. I’ve fallen a long way from my initial lofty ambitions of a-post-a-day. But if the truth be known, I think that was a slight overkill. Who wants to be bombarded with chatter from me every morning?

I did manage to finish a working manuscript of my father’s story that I hope to publish through my LLC, Grote Ink, sometime later this year. I’ve had an inertia problem with that project from the beginning, probably because of the emotional challenge it presents.

I’m thinking about putting my genealogy online through a separate WordPress blog, although I haven’t moved that project any further than the thinking-about-it stage. My interest in genealogy waxes and wanes through the years. I put it aside until someone follows the online breadcrumbs and contacts me introducing him- or herself as a distant relative seeking information — always a thrill.

I’m more focused lately on my photography. I am learning Adobe Lightroom and Elements software. My brain is becoming less flexible right along with the muscles in my body that resist, creak, groan, and generate pain when I call them to task. I suppose the only way to combat the aging body is to strengthen the will.

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That’s about all I’ve got this morning. I’m sitting here beside a fireplace I’ve yet to light, enjoying the glitter of the snow just outside the window as it sparkles in the rising sunlight. I am one of the few who actually still loves the snow, although the gray, wet, sludge can be annoying. I love how snow transforms the world, however, even I have my limits. I’m giving this winter a couple more weeks, and then spring better be poking its head out of the damp soil. Even the groundhog, who sees his shadow, predicts spring in six weeks, that’s by March 16th according to my calculations. Can’t wait.

Unmoored – eighteen months later

I wrote the post below a couple of months ago now. It has been patiently sitting in my post folder as a draft. I decided to go ahead and post it today even though it is dated. The eighteen-month anniversary of the passing of my parents has passed. And although I didn’t feel so just a few short weeks ago, I’ve begun to feel as if I have turned a corner. I feel like the fog is lifting and I am recognizing myself again, caring about things again, having more self-direction. I can’t promise this feeling will stick, but I am hopeful that the intense grief has passed and I am becoming accustomed to life without Mom and Dad.

That being said, I woke up crying one day last week from a vivid memory of Mom. When I was attending college in my hometown, I lived on campus. My long-time, four-year boyfriend and I broke up and I was pretty torn up about it. I gathered my dirty laundry in the morning after a sleepless night. And as soon as I deemed it late enough to arrive, I drove over to my parents. My roommate had called my mom without my knowledge. When I got there, Mom was standing at the door, in her robe, waiting for me. This makes me cry again today just thinking about it.

But what I realize today is that I may always have moments of tears about Mom and Dad. That’s okay. I suffered a loss. And the truth of the matter is that life will never be the same. It’s a new world.

June 29th, 2014

In a couple of weeks it will be the 18-month anniversary of my mother’s death. A year and a half. And the reason I’ve paid attention to that is that somewhere earlier out I Googled how long we grieve for a parent and I read somewhere that it’s different for everyone, but somewhere from 9 to 18 months is typical.

I’m approaching the 18 month mark for my mom’s death. And two weeks after that, it will be 18 months since my father died. So I wonder again whether I grieve for them simultaneously or consecutively which would mean I get three years to grieve.

Eighteen months. Is that all the time it’s been? it seems like forever.

Most days I think I am doing quite well, but every now and then I have a bad day where I find my self sobbing, with a deep gut-wrenching pain that reminds me how much I miss her, him, them, and how I’ll never see them again.

Am I getting through this okay? I wonder.

My sisters are my reality check.

My sister C. will call and say, “I had a really bad day the other day about Mom and Dad.”

“Me too. I’m not sure why, but I found myself crying again,” I say.

Then I’ll talk to my other sister. “I had a bad day earlier this week.”

“I did too,” K. answers. “I don’t know why. I have trouble at night before I fall asleep. I just think about everything that Mom went through, and I feel so bad for her. We really went through a traumatic experience.”

“Sometimes I cry for Mom and what she suffered and went through in the last years of her life,” I say. “And sometimes I cry because I want to talk to her, or because she doesn’t know I had a hysterectomy a few weeks ago.”

“Sometimes I feel really bad about what Dad had to go through,” K. will say. “I really hope I don’t have to depend upon other people to take care of me.”

Life does go on, but for me life will never be the same. Some things become less important, like finding the right window treatment for the dining room. And some things become more important like my personal relationships. I try harder to stop parenting in what can only be received as a judgmental way. And when I’m not able to hold my tongue, I find myself explaining my perspective and apologizing more. I try to nurture the sometimes fragile relationships I have with my siblings. And I make an effort to find ways to enrich my husband’s life.  How I will be remembered is much more important to me. Being in control, having things my way, and being right don’t matter so much.

I still continue to feel like an unmoored ship, directionless, no one behind the wheel.

But maybe that’s okay.

 

See more posts about my journey through grief.

A passing thought

When I was younger my life was like a bottomless basket of days to spend. Of course I always knew it was a finite amount that would eventually come to an end. But there were so very many days in that basket, that the idea of them running out was of no concern to me.

Here is one of my midlife revelations. I see now that the level of those days in that basket has dropped significantly. I don’t know how many more there are, but I can readily tell that I have already used more, undoubtedly many more, than I have left.

I think the death of both of my parents has sharpened this sense that time is running out, that time is of the essence. Since their passing, I have been somewhat preoccupied with death, and in particular with my own death. It’s not that I fear death or am even particularly sad about the idea of the end to my own life. But the thought of my inevitable death makes me consider more seriously my life.

Recently I feel like I struggle with younger people. I don’t always understand them. I don’t always understand their behavior at times or their priorities in particular. And I came to realize today that perhaps younger people still see their basket of days as an endless supply, as I did. When I was young, I had just arrived at the amusement park. I could go on the first ride that caught my eye, and then the next. But now, at this stage of my life, I’ve spent a good part of the day at that amusement park already. I’m starting to think about what rides  I most want to go on before I have to leave. It’s a different perspective altogether, with different priorities.

I know. If younger people are reading, or were to read, this, I suspect they might protest. I would have too. Of course younger people know their life will come to an end. I did too. We all do.

But that knowledge has transformed somehow inside of me with the passing years. That knowledge now colors and informs decisions I make like never before. Where do I want to live? Because, realistically, how many more moves do I really have in me? The knowledge of my mortality informs daily choices I make. Do I really need another print book? How am I going to get rid of all the books we have already collected?

Most importantly, that knowledge informs the quality of the relationships I have with other people. Do I really have time for hurt feelings or disappointment? Maybe disappointment is a choice I can choose not to make.

Today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday. Her days ran out sometime during her 78th year. Do I have twenty more years, thirty or more, only 5? I have no way to know.

You might link I am maudlin or morose. But quite the opposite is true. I am on a challenging journey to find the light. I want those days left in my basket, however many there are, to shine. To really shine.

 

 

One thing’s clear — re-evaluating blogging

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Since Mom and Dad died in January I have undergone a lot of confusion and soul-searching about life—from large general philosophical questions like “What’s it all about?” “What’s the point?” to small particular practical questions like “What do I do with my Wednesdays now?”

The event of Mom and Dad’s death, and I call it a singular event because that’s how it feels to me, has been, and continues to be, a transformational one.

I know my life and times are changing, but I can’t always articulate exactly how.

Today one thing became clear.

I’m refocusing this blog and the title of it on Random Thoughts from Midlife. I had switched the main title of my blog to my name from advice I got online while trying to figure out how best to market my book. I’m heading back to my original inspiration and letting my other blog-website (such as it is, a mere stagnant skeleton waiting for me to return) bear the burden of my name.

I first started this blog in January of 2011. On my “About” page I wrote:

I have a father with Alzheimer’s, and a mother who is trying desperately hard to take care of him. I have two living sisters and one brother. We lost my younger sister Annie to cancer in August of 2009. She was permanently and severely disabled at birth. We loved her dearly.”

That’s what it still says today. It’s just one more thing about my life that needs to be updated now that Mom and Dad are gone.

I started my blog because I wrote Annie’s book. That’s the simple truth. I wrote a book and I was trying to figure out what to do with it. The online research I did continued to talk about how I needed to have a platform—a completely foreign concept to me at the time.

I knew a blog could be an important building block of the elusive “platform” so I thought about what I might possibly blog about. Several years prior to this I had the notion of writing a magazine with stories and photographs called Random Thoughts from Midlife. I went so far as to jot the title down on a scrap of paper and stuff it in a drawer. The fate of many of my ideas.

Forgive me if I’m rambling. I know some of you will stick through this to the end with me and others won’t. It’s something I need to do regardless. Thank you if you’re staying.

Since Mom and Dad died, writing has been one of the larger questions I’ve grappled with. Maybe I don’t need or want to do it anymore, I’d think. What am I doing with my blog? Does it need a more specific direction? Should I give it up altogether?

It really all boiled down to What do I want to do now? Some of my lack of direction came from the empty nest feelings that I directly transferred to the care of my parents. Dad had Alzheimer’s. Annie died in August. My youngest left for college in September. It was an easy shift to let the care of my parents fill the hole left behind by my children.

When I was in college, the second time, earning my English degree, I took every course in Women’s Studies that was available to me. Several of these courses used journal-type writings from women—not famous literature, just simple accounts of their lives. The slave narratives I studied in several courses were a similar inspiration to me. Just simple people, perhaps living complicated lives, who chose to tell or write about what they went through. I saw these stories as a gift to the rest of us who might now be able to see more clearly, understand more deeply.

In my view, and you might not agree, midlife is a time period that is undervalued by society at large. As we head out to pastures no one is interested in what we’re doing anymore. They’re all watching the three-year-old thoroughbred races.

I also think that technology has somehow undermined the perceived value of the experience of our more mature members of society. Who needs to ask Grandma how to make a pie crust when you can Google it and get expert advice from 4 or 5 individuals with their own television shows?

I think midlife is a fascinating time of life with many of life’s largest issues at the forefront. I think all of our lives are important even if our faces are not on Hollywood’s big screens or we aren’t a star athlete or the head of a major corporation. We all count. I believe that some of the greatest wisdom can be found in what society may consider the least of us. I am grateful for the technology, that on the one hand threatens to devalue us, yet gives us the opportunity to speak and have others hear our voice.

Some of the topics I’ve written about on this blog include:

Adult children
Being a grandparent
Physical problems of aging
Travel
Hobbies like photography, gardening, and genealogy
Taking care of aging parents
Alzheimer’s
Losing a parent
Long-term love of a spouse

Many of these are common things that those of us, in the middle of our lives, are concerned about, value, and live with.

I think my original idea was a good one.

Welcome back Random Thoughts.

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If you’re a blogger, I’d love to hear why you started your blog, why you continue, and what you try to do with it.

If you’re not a blogger, thanks for reading my blog. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this post.

After the storm

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Days stretch out in front of me

Purposeless.

No eulogies to write,

slide shows to make,

funerals to plan.

No parents to visit,

or bags to pack

for overnight stays

at bedsides.

Unsigned and unsent Christmas cards in their boxes

and a renegade ornament

to put away.

A dining room table with photos to scan,

photos to return,

photos to share.

Dad’s box of blocks,

memory game cards,

a worn cookbook

with blotches and stains.

Less posts about Alzheimer’s.

More posts about grief.

Planters to water.

And a heart to heal.

Birds at the feeders,

still.