An “empty nester” is someone whose children have grown up and left home. They are those mostly lucky couples that have been given children, raised them, and watched them gain the independence and fortitude to head off into the world on their own. From what I understand, they often find themselves with a significant amount of free time to pursue hobbies and dreams that have been on the back burner for years. Some are joyous, some are melancholy, a few despair. I’ve been told that they often are forced to re-meet their spouse, whether that’s through a fun sort of dating-without-the-awkwardness or a painful learning that you’ve drifted further apart than you meant to. Either way, it’s an adjustment, especially if their children unexpectedly return.
I envy them.
I’ve felt like Morgan and I have had an empty nest for years. Truly empty. It has been filled with laughter and hope, song and fun, feasting and sleeping and lots of love. But it has never been filled with our children. It’s not as though we had children and they’ve moved on to fulfill their own dreams. It is a harsh reality that we have none. We are still young, and there is still plenty of time to try again, to adopt, to foster. But we are going on five long years of desperately wanting children, of facing empty rooms that were supposed to be nurseries, of watching others’ children become toddlers, and start school, and grow up. If we had gotten pregnant right away, our child would have been four this summer. Four years old. The heaviness of that empty nest weighs on me, on us, every second of every day. No part of our life, no moment of joy, no hour of focus is not tinged by the fact that we are not parents and we may never become parents. Cory was our miracle, our hope, our dream, and our gift. His death has left us with a nest that is not just empty, but empty with a barren vacancy for which we were simply not prepared. Much like typical empty nesters, we find that it is just the two of us again. We have to become reacquainted with each other in our grief, re-meet each other now that Cory’s death has fundamentally changed who both of us are. We have time for projects, time for hobbies, time we never desired. Our son will never return. We will never face the difficulties of kicking him out of our basement in twenty years because he is never coming back. We are stuck with the emptiness of his absence.
Empty has been the only word these last two weeks to describe how I’ve felt. Through our entire move to Charleston, I have been consumed by emptiness. Cory’s absence remains poignant and painful, but dulling to a bearability that six weeks always seems to bring to any human tragedy. That bitter, bone-deep, stabbing pain of the first month has been replaced with an aching emptiness that is no less a part of us, but at least allows us to function. I feel so empty. Physically, of course, I truly am empty. I had grown accustomed to never being alone, to constantly carrying Cory’s body and soul. He was my companion even when no one else was within miles of me. And now, the place that he occupied is truly, in the most literal sense, empty. But there is more than a physical emptiness in our lives, more than an empty nursery, empty arms, and an empty womb. Our lives have been emptied of the joy we experienced when we found out we were pregnant. Emptied of the expectation of our future with our son. Emptied of the anticipation of being parents. We have been emptied. I am empty. I am vacant, barren, hollow. Sometimes that emptiness feels as though it is going to collapse upon the weight of its own gravitational pull leaving me a small fragment of what I used to be. It is hard to resist the collapse. It is difficult to carry the emptiness.
The hope that remains, though, is founded on my conviction that the emptiness can be filled. With friends, with family, with projects, with goals, with work, with school, with life. It can be filled by those who are brave enough to reach out and sit and listen to the hard stuff. It can be filled by other people’s babies, people who are gracious enough to let us snuggle and stare in awe at the wonderful miracle of life with which they were entrusted. It can be filled by all of the laughter and joy and light that the world has to offer even when darkness reigns. It can be filled by faith in a God that is good, loving, and ever gracious to give us continued blessings we can never deserve. Our physical emptiness can be filled too. Our nursery will most likely one day hold a child. Everyone is hopeful that we can have a child of our own but if not, maybe our nursery will hold a child that will need us as much as we need them. There is also, of course, the chance that God’s will for our lives is truly to have an empty nest. Whatever the case, we will embrace the life that comes our way. With or without an empty nest, I expect our lives to be full.