A Vast and Enduring Love

The early days of becoming an empty nester

by Angela Martin

My husband Rob and I have been traveling up and down the east coast this past week taking our two sons to college, and are now at Cape Cod for our annual August vacation. We are alone here, just the two of us, for the first time in twenty years. We are officially empty nesters – a title everyone is greeting us with, as August at the Cape is where the Martin family and our Cape Cod Clan have been migrating for more than six decades.

For us, Cape Cod is located 40 minutes east of the “Cape Cod” sign that is neatly trimmed into an evergreen hedge after the Bourne Bridge. Our Cape Cod is a cluster of simple cottages nestled on the edge of the bay on the Upper Cape. Without TV, wifi, or landline telephones, this place represents a deep connection for us: to our family and friends, to ourselves, and to the earth.

At summer’s end, Our Cape Cod serves as a place of renewal and a harbinger of fall. You can feel the cool air on your skin at night, you can see the earlier setting of the sun, you can sense in your very being that something is ending and something else is beginning. This year, these shores are ushering Rob and me to a new way of being. We are learning to love our youngest son as we do our oldest – from afar. My heart literally aches at the thought that life with our children as we once knew it is gone.

Breathe, I tell myself. Just breathe.

As you can see, I am not comfortable with this new role of empty nester, nor do I like the term, bristling every time I hear the words like the sound of nails on a chalkboard. I acknowledge that it is truth, but at the moment, I don’t exactly know how to be who I am now.

Well, that’s not it exactly. I haven’t changed – just my circumstances have.

The weather forecast for the upcoming week here at the Cape is a welcome parallel to my fluctuating emotions: a mix of sun, clouds, and some rain. Rob and I have just come in from a walk on the sandbars, the tide on its way in, and the foggy mist giving way to showers. This unsettled sky is how I’ve been these days: joyful at the thought of John’s new life one moment, a good soaking cry missing him and Ryan the next.

My spiritual life has been a safety net for me so often in life and it continues to be there for me now. Although my typically detailed prayers over the protection of my children in the classroom, on the field, in the car and on and on, have given way to a simple one-word prayer inspired by the writer Anne Lamott.

Help, I say with all that I am. Please, help.

It is hard for me to pray this way, as many of my friends are dealing with much tougher life experiences. But I see that I am hurting – and it feels good to acknowledge that. I am buoyed by my friends at Copper Beech Institute who remind me that the best I can do is be true to myself. To feel whatever it is I am feeling.

Rob summarized our circumstances best on the sandbars a few minutes ago when I asked him how he’s doing. “It’s like a piece of us is missing.”

“Yes, that’s how I feel too.”

And in the next moment it came to me here on this shore where Rob grew up as a boy and a generation later so did our kids – where we are growing up all over again as parents right now: “Do you know why it hurts so much, Rob?” I asked, the mist turning to a light rain. “It’s because we love them as deep and as wide as this bay – and we always will. That will never change.”

As I sit here now in our cottage, typing away and looking over the bay, the rain giving way to brightening late afternoon skies, I remember another lesson of love John taught me in the moment he came into this world. I worried when I was pregnant with John that I might not love him as much as Ryan.

How could I possibly love another child the way I love my first?

But the instant I held John in my arms I knew I could have 10 children and love them all equally.

A mother’s love is vast. A mother’s love is endless. A mother’s love can endure anything.

Today my love is stronger than the pain of separation. Today love wins.

How grateful I am for this awareness, for the love I feel and for the pain, for the gift of my husband and our two boys.

Thank you, my sweet men, for the gift of each of you.

Angela Martin is a writer, author, and marketing director at Copper Beech Institute. She writes about the power of friendship and compassion – and her new journey as an empty nester.

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2 thoughts

  1. Thanks Angela!! Perfect timing as we set off this weekend to drop our girls off to school and Rick and I begin the next chapter of our lives. Val


  2. Oh, Angela you have beautifully put to words what parents go through when our parenting roles change. My sons are in their 40’s now and yes they need us less for the everyday, routine issues but, more and more for the real life issues and support. You will find (once your heart heals) that it is a beautiful evolution and affirmations of good and lasting parenting!


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