Empty Nesters: Coping With Silences & Freedom As Children Leave Home

With children gone to live their lives miles away, as I see ourselves swing close to life’s finishing line, I'm ambivalent about the future and how it will unfold but sometimes it is good not to think that much and discover the unknown, the hidden.

Radhika Dhingra
New Update
Parents, empty nesters

Representative Image | A still from the film Kapoor & Sons.

It has been a month that Madhav and Meera have left and I can still feel their improbable presence; I can hear the cacophony of laughter. I can see their contorted faces, smiles and frowns. The house still smells of chocolate shakes and coleslaw sandwiches. This time when they left it was no different than other times. The gnawing solitude in my lonely mansion has increased. Moments of silence are so profound that it seems the city is asleep.


I strive to keep the misery out of my voice and tell my wife, Anita, “The sooner you get back to your normal routine, the better it is for us and for them”.

“If this is how you are going to behave, I suggest we move with them,” I said in candour.

Madhav and Meera have always been insistent that we move to California, United States. We tried but failed. We felt off the hook. It is unsettling to feel vaguely misplaced, homeless and unwanted. Our children did as much as they could to make us feel better. They were never inconsiderate but I guess at this age you want to leave your cocoon. 

Anita looks down at her gentle tapering fingers, which she crosses, and then disengages as if to let her thoughts run through them. “I’ll be fine.” She said buoyantly. Earnestly can I suggest you stop being brave, I know it hurts you as much, Ravi.

I sputtered at a loss of words.

Everything has gone as planned. Children are well-educated and well-settled. We have our investments in place; our old age is secure and we are inordinately proud of the humble, uncompromised life we led and the values we espoused in our children.


Finding Ourselves Again, When Children Leave Home

As I see ourselves swing close to life’s finishing line, I'm ambivalent about the future. Anita keeps the life of the place alive. The gist with which she moves her fry pans and other cookware, her hands in her sureness and speed is unmatchable and the same is her love for cooking. For her cooking food is a unifying element of every relationship; she was an unprecedented host to every family and friend get-together. As the family has shrunk in size and spread in different corners of the world, she doesn’t get to host dinners and as my digestive system has become completely incapacitating, she doesn’t get to cook much.

When I see her quiet, my world is thrown into peril. It is Anita who makes sure that I’m fed; she knows that sambhar dal does not suit me at night. It causes indigestion. It is staggeringly obvious that one of us has to go first; I wonder how the one left behind will manage. The irony is entirely befitting.

As we drink tea in companionable silence, I only wish that we lived the way we lived almost half of the century together.

Drearily the afternoon clock ticks, and my head is filled with the smell of Jacaranda. We are both absorbed in our own thoughts. All our life we live with routine. Be it eating breakfast, going to work, coming back, petting the dog, hugging the kids, watching TV, eating dinner and going off to sleep. I never felt that stagnation should be rebelled. Now I abhor the dull routine of existence, with the mists of time it seems to be a part of our existence but I do question why we never packed and went on a holiday. I have always been infatuated with learning music, painting, and photography and none of it crossed off my bucket list. 

The sky smudged by blue-black clouds will break loose any time, the melody of the night was distracted by two white envelopes placed on the tan wooden table which blends beautifully into the backyard.


We received a phone call from Madhav and Meera. They say that after much contemplation, they have decided to give us both something. I smiled and winked at my ever-gracious children. "Before you open the envelope and react, let me tell you that No is not a choice." 

As we open the envelope, we are totally befuddled by what we see and what we read. For instance, we were caught up in the whirlwind.

The white crisp envelopes had alternated between panic, excitement, and ethereal cynosure and gave new gravitas, fresh purpose and something to look forward to. It helped us devise a survival line and an unquenchable desire for light and liberty. It restored our tarnished glory and helped us reinvent ourselves. I felt a sudden surge of relief, elation and fatigue. I was ambivalent about the future and how it will unfold but sometimes it is good not to think that much, trudge the not-so-beaten path and discover the unknown, the hidden.

I have learnt to like being a beginner in my photography classes. The sense of wonder and discovery in each picture I take, in every place I go is immeasurable. When you learn something, the whole new world opens up graciously. I feel the truth of a photograph goes far beyond the question of its veracity. They find my pictures to be thoughtful and compelling without pretension. I might be the oldest in the group of amateur photographers but I’m learning fast. Now I understand the technicalities, resolution, light, and shutter speed. I understand the digital photo process from shooting to editing.

Anita takes two cookery classes every week. Not to my surprise with her exuberant charm and cooking skills many nearby womenfolk have started coming in. Her briskly fluffed omelettes, plum jam and richly sauced curries have converted her inane time pass into a lucrative new business. A never-ending list of groceries, spices, sauces and queries from the participants keep her on her toes. Finally, I see a sense of fulfilment, a kind of confidence I have never seen in her before.

Suggested reading: Age Is Only A Number If Viewed Holistically: Inclusion Of Elderly

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