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STOIC POETRY | The pain of the empty nest

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

Who knew becoming empty-nesters was so painful? Surely, neither Yumiko or I did. And who knew how fast the sense of absence and loss could strike and set in and press so deeply and hard at one's sense of being and purpose?

Yesterday, July 12th, 2020, was the first day for my wife and I alone together in our home after our daughter has left us to begin her (mostly) independent life. The day started out like most Sundays do, with me getting up early to write, read, and walk the dogs, while Yumiko rose somewhat later to make breakfast. While eating together, we both confessed flatly that we were struggling - a lot. We each shared how we suddenly felt so empty without our daughter there with us; without Emily in the next room, sleeping in late despite our repeated and loud announcements of "breakfast!!" The dining table was missing an empty plate in front of an empty chair which would not be filled today, or later at lunch time, or at dinner, today or tomorrow or most days, save when Emily might return as a visitor, and that fact in itself was painful. Our daughter would "visit us" rather than live here and participate directly in our lives as she'd done for the last two decades.

After some discussion, Yumiko and I agreed that the hardest part was not the worry, but the sense of empty; the deep, abiding void of who we each are as people, as human beings in a world where our main reason in being has seemingly always been the care and well-being of our daughter...who is now no longer here. And though we know that Emily still needs us, we now understand that she may never again need us in quite the same way. And where does that leave us as parents? What more is there to do in this role that can provide the feeling of someone who is needed, and perhaps more importantly, of having some purpose in life?

And here is where this pain encounters my own journey of Going Alone. As the perception of unmeaning in the empty nest bears some similarity my apprehension of The Great Indifference which I've encountered out there in the desert wastes. That sense that the universe has no objective meaning for us other than survival and procreation; that dawning understanding which comes when alone, and far off trail in a wild desert land with little life, or sign of living, or any sense at all of companionship, safety, or hope. This is thing of which I write - and which I have now again met - here in my home, upon the day after my daughter's departure to begin her life on her own.

Yumiko and I will be fine. We know that. We have one another as we seemingly always have. And we're friends. And we like to spend time together. And we have our dogs. And we have - at least for now - our health. So, we will carry on together. And we will watch Emily move on with her life. She texted us yesterday to tell us about her one roommate who is an actor, and a game show host, and another roommate, a French girl, who just arrived today and who is very nice. And a third girl who smokes. And how Emily and the game show host are planning to organize the kitchen together. And she told us of the Economics test she took on a Sunday - welcome to the world of COVID-19 - and which she scored almost 100%. She texted to say she was having pizza again for dinner. And she thanked us for the food we left to fill her fridge. And then she was gone...taken up by her other - her new - life. And Yumiko and I were alone together again at dinner time. But this meal was better than our desperate breakfast. We'd talked it over, and spent the day together finding our feet. The challenge isn't over we know. But we are ready to begin.


My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

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