The pain of empty nest syndrome

The pain of empty nest syndrome

Jennie Ridyard

For the first time in my adult life, no one is my responsibility.

First was the stomach ache. Then eczema resurfaced on my middle finger. I didn’t buy groceries because there seemed precious little point, and I didn’t want to do the laundry, because… Well, because my youngest son, my six-foot, 21-year-old baby, went to America for three months in May, and his last few unwashed items were still in the basket, and what if he never came home?

Then all I’d have is his DNA, the fading smell of him on his discarded T-shirts, and it seemed like tempting fate to wash it away. Creepy, right? Yet now he is coming home; now I have washed his sheets and shirts, and put on my normal mummy face.

But I don’t feel normal. This leaving was yet another snapping of the apron strings, yet another pulling away. One day too soon, both my boys will be gone.

I think I have empty nest syndrome.

It’s (almost) funny really. I always considered the idea nonsense. Nobody to worry about but oneself? Heaven! I’d spread out, go feral, drink gin for breakfast, eat toast for dinner, and only have myself to account for.

But the thing is, for the last 28 years I have been a mother. I have fussed and fretted, and loved unfettered and unconditionally; I have managed, schemed, and made-a-plan, always with my children my first concern. A teenage mum, I have never been a grown-up alone.

And then along the way, as my boys pushed off incrementally, I got dogs, and particularly my recently-deceased pup – possibly the most adoring dog the world has ever known. I was her mummy too. Gently, she filled the growing gap that I pretended wasn’t there.

Still, that hole quietly opened as my boys went off sporadically, in fits, in starts, in lengthening absences, growing in independence.

Now, for the first time in my adult life, no one is my responsibility. No one needs me. Over the last three months I have realised that I am lost. As the years went by, I came to rely on my sons and, later, my sad-eyed little dog more than they did on me, for companionship, affection, laughter … for purpose.

So somehow, somewhere in this strange new funk I have a decision to make: what on earth will I do for the rest of my life?

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