Truth is, I thought the empty nest was for the birds. This is partly why, after my father-in-law Winston passed away two months ago, there was no question as to whether I hoped my mother-in-law Georgia would move in with my husband and me. I was thrilled that she agreed to do so.
I’ve always liked the idea of shared spaces and resources. I loved college dorm living, and if I came of age in the 60s, I’m sure I would have been drawn to communes. It seemed unnecessary, excessive really, that my husband and I would live alone in the home where we raised our children with those empty bedrooms echoing.
Thankfully, neither Georgia nor I are collectors, but we still have stuff, lots of it, and combining it is tricky. Together, we knew we didn’t need two blenders or electric knives or shower curtains. I was happy to get rid of my silverware that had lost wrestling matches to the garbage disposal over the years. Georgia was kind enough to release her beautiful dining room table and chairs, even though it was much newer and nicer, since mine had two decades’ worth of family dinners around it.
It was a stainless-steel vegetable steamer that tripped me up, a wedding shower gift from one of my grandmothers. I thought of her every time I pulled it from the cupboard. Georgia’s was just as good, with a glass lid to boot. I had to ask myself if I could keep my grandmother’s memory without keeping the object and determined the answer was yes. The donation pile grew.
I used to think I would weed through my things by having my children take whatever they needed as they left to start their own lives. But I quickly learned what I should have already known: children rarely want their parents’ things. They want their own stuff that reflects their own tastes. Now, when I’m tempted to hold onto something I don’t need, I try to remember to ask myself if my kids will one day want it. Nine times out of ten, the answer is no.
Honestly, Georgia has made our home better in so many ways. She has great taste, and our home is much cleaner than it’s ever been. But my appreciation for her is so much more than having better silverware or dishes or a spic and span kitchen counter. Georgia is simply a joy to be with. Her quiet and gentle spirit is a blessing to be around. I realize we are fortunate to care for each other the way we do.
Every day we are aware of what’s missing, which has nothing to do with material objects or collectibles. We miss the people whom we love and loved. We miss those who have made this astonishing life worth living: both baby birds who have left the nest and loved ones who have left the earth altogether.
As we continue to sort and purge, weed and weave, we gratefully remember. Our material lives are mere props to the fact that we’re happy for the gift of life and time and breath. Although unspoken, we resolve to cherish these years, as many as we can have, together.
Eileen Button teaches Communication at Mott Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.