I found the poem below in a book by Shelley Bovey The Empty Nest: When Children Leave Home. It is a beautiful poem that describes a broken heart – a mother’s pain on parting. It reminded me of an article I read in the Daily Mail written by Maddy Paxman, author of The Great Below. She lost her husband, writer Michael Donaghy, as a result of a brain haemorrhage when she was 46 and was left to bring up her eight-year-old son on her own. In the article she writes about her agony, knowing her son Ruari will soon leave home. She says “moving on from motherhood is no laughing matter. Especially if this is your last – or, as in my case, only child – the transition brings with it a huge sense of loss and grief, largely unacknowledged in our society. We celebrate birth with flowers and presents, but the ending of hands-on motherhood is borne mostly in silent distress.”
She goes on to say “We all know that our children’s job is to grow up and leave, and our job is to let them. We know it from the moment they are born, but it doesn’t make it any easier when the time comes. Mothering is a long process of letting go, gradually paying out the thread between your heart and your child’s until it is gossamer thin. But I don’t believe it ever breaks completely….. The next few years will be a learning curve for us both, as we try to shift our lives onto a more separate footing. I owe it to myself – and to him – to find a way forward, a life of my own: to step into my future with courage and enthusiasm, just as I want my darling boy to step into his.”
by Stella Clark (Women’s Voices)
I was ready for the pain of the first birth,
I had practiced, as I lay upon the floor,
Clenching and relaxing.
Isolating parts of me
That were not needed for the birth.
For that long process
Of my baby’s separation.
But when it came,
The agony astounded me
As that small being struggled free,
Until at last, with one long cry
Broken by pain past all control,
The parting was complete.
And I became alone again;
But with the birth came
And as our children
Each in turn were born,
They came into a world
That we had made for them.
Their lives were bounded by our care,
For in the safety of our arms
We sheltered them,
Trusting each other
With what we loved the most
Each small progression
(Source of reassurance and delight)
Was preparation for the time
We knew must come.
We watched them as they found their lives,
Saw them change and grow –
Become themselves – not ours.
Half irritated, half amused,
Stepped over leather jackets,
And great clumsy boots,
And piles of clothes,
And mugs of old cold tea,
Switched off the music playing in an empty room
The second births
Have been more terrible than the first.
For after separation comes the pain,
As I let go
What I most long to hold.
All my love and pride
Is not enough now
To protect them, as
Alone but strong,
They go into a world of others’ making.
To friends who ask, we say,
“The house is rather quiet – but clean and tidy”,
And we laugh.
I practice being busy, happy and content,
But in spite of all my preparation,
I cannot isolate
I know there are those who feel that people should just get over their heart-brokenness when their children leave home. After all, it is a completely natural process and you should rejoice that you have more time to yourself. People who battle with the intensity of their feelings at this time tend to feel slightly ashamed and do not want others to see the extent of their pain. There is nothing that can completely prepare you for an empty nest and nothing to prevent you from the pain. However, if you acknowledge your feelings, this is the first step towards healing and moving on. By this I do not mean that you should wallow – do all you can to move on but never feel ashamed of your pain. Your pain is simply a reflection of the depth of your love. You will move on and you will find new purpose but take a little time to acknowledge your loss.