The Empty House
One minute your house is full of chaos, laughter, arguing, children, a spouse, and then it isn’t. Your spouse is gone, and since you have shared custody and it’s his weekend with the kids, your house is empty. There is no one asking you what’s for dinner, or whether you remembered to pick up the dry cleaning. There is no one who needs to be reminded to straighten up their room or turn off the lights. There is no one demanding that you drive them to CVS to get poster board for a project that is due tomorrow and no one leaving dirty dishes in the sink.
There is no one to cuddle with on the couch when you watch television. There is no one to tell you what a delicious dinner you’ve made or ask you about your day. No one notices or pulls you in for a hug when a tear slips down your cheek, and your bed is cold and empty. It is much too quiet. Until you hear a loud noise in the middle of the night, and you sit up in bed, and you think, it’s okay, it’s just one of the kids on their way to the bathroom, but then you realize that they are not here. So you reach for your husband, to ask him to check out that noise, but then you realize that he’s not here, either, and he is no longer your husband.
You wander through the house cleaning and straightening things, but that doesn’t take very long because there is no one here to mess them up. Things stay where you put them and after a few days of cleaning your house is like a museum. You realize that you have lost not only your spouse and your kids but your identity as well. You are the chef, the maid, the nanny, the chauffeur – you are the caretaker. But with no one to take care of, what are you supposed to do?
You decide to avoid the empty house by going out. You join a gym and an online dating service. You keep busy and fill up your calendar. You get in shape, so getting dates is easy, but you quickly learn that quantity is not quality. Surely there is a better way to spend your time than sitting across the table from someone you have nothing in common with, mentally calculating whether you can fit through the bathroom window, escape and make it home in time for the Late Show.
You decide to redecorate. Maybe if the house looks different, you will feel different. You buy some new art, move the furniture around, take down the family photos and replace them with pictures of just the kids. The ache inside when you look at those pictures feels like a vortex that will swallow you whole. You miss your kids and would give anything to take them on an emergency CVS run right now, but it’s not your night, and so you must find something else to do.
The phone rings, and you’re thrilled to see your child’s beautiful face on the screen. You answer the phone, relieved that they miss you, too, and they start telling you about their adventures with Daddy. They went to the amusement park and had pizza and ice cream. They are having fun, and they don’t sound sad at all, and you are glad to hear a smile in your child’s voice. They ask how your day was, and you look around and realize that the truth won’t do. You can’t tell them you sat on their bed and cried for an hour, then wept your way through the photo album of your last family vacation, so you say that you went to the gym, had lunch with a friend, and you’re leaving for the movies shortly. You feel bad lying to your child, but you’re doing it for them – if they knew that you were home alone crying all the time, they would worry about you and enough of their childhood has been stolen. You will not allow them to become the parent in this relationship.
You hang up the phone and realize that you need to get a life, but how? You’re not twenty anymore. You don’t want to be out all hours of the night; you want to be home in your sweatpants watching your favorite show with your life partner while the children sleep upstairs. You realize now that that dream may never come true. You may grow old alone, in an empty house.
These thoughts are not helping; you must change your attitude as well as your life. You cannot think of what dreams might not come true; you must think of the ones that still can. You cannot think of what you’ve lost; you must focus on what you’ve gained. This is not the end; it is a new beginning. This is a chance to recreate your life and make it what you want it to be. It won’t be the life you thought that you would have, but it can still be a life worth having.
You think about the times when your house was full, and all of the things that you wished you could do then. You realize that you should be doing them now. You have something that many parents long for: time. Time to pursue your passions, time to focus on yourself. You have choices and possibilities, and when you realize this, you also have hope.
You can try to escape the empty house, or you can find yourself in it.
Time passes, you grow stronger, and you learn to live with the ache. It’s always there, but it becomes bearable. You realize that the house was never truly empty, God was there all along, and so were you, you just forgot. You suddenly realize that you are not alone in your disillusionment and loneliness; there is a world full of hurting people who are not living the lives that they dreamed of. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you meet them. Through connection with others and God you begin to heal, smile, and laugh. You cherish your time with your kids when they are home, but when they are not, you channel your time and energy into service, into building relationships and into pursuing your calling.
The empty house is no longer something to be feared because you have filled it with laughter and purpose. You hope that perhaps someday you’ll have someone to share it with, but you know that even if you don’t, you’re okay with that, because you are never truly alone.
Does your house or your life feel empty sometimes? What steps can you take to change that?