Oliver: Empty nest leads to another ‘new normal’

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

Major life events often bring with them change, affecting just about every facet of the way we go about our days. It can be when we change jobs or lose a job, when we move or when a family member leaves the nest.

My husband and I now know what it feels like to be empty nesters. I have to admit that since we’ve never had children of our own, this comes as a bit of a surprise.

Yet, for the past three and a half years, we’ve had another member of the family living with us, one that was, um, labor intensive.

Now that she’s gone, we’re definitely feeling a bit unsettled.

When the decision was made to have my 82-year-old mother move from Georgia to our house in McHenry, it was not unlike getting ready for a new addition. We had to convert a spare bedroom, which had been an office, into a place where all of my mother’s worldly possessions could reside.

That also meant big changes on her end, since those possessions were going to have to be pared substantially. It was difficult, but somehow we got through it.

When she arrived in October 2014, we all had to figure out how to make it work. It was time to create a “new normal.” New routines had to be established. There was drama, but somehow we got through it.

At the outset, Mom was fairly self-contained. She could be left alone to putter around. She could make a sandwich if she got hungry or I didn’t get home soon enough for her liking. After all, she had lived by herself for years, or so she liked to remind me.

As her dementia worsened, and she lost the ability to figure out where she was, another “new normal” developed. This time, she required a lot of my attention, as well as assistance from my husband and a lot of my friends.

Mom required help getting dressed each morning, and she needed her breakfast to be made. If I was going to be out, I needed to have her lunch ready so that my husband could serve it to her. If I was working that night, I’d need to have her bed turned down and her pajamas laid out in hopes she would get herself ready for bed. If not, then I’d need to handle it when I got home.

If I wanted any time alone with my husband, I’d need to arrange for a friend to sit with Mom. Mom’s care became our “new normal.” Not ideal, but somehow we all got through it.

As Mom’s dementia entered the “end stage,” the situation got even more challenging. Mom’s frustration would result in agitation, anger and outbursts. She’d be harder to wake up in the morning, more reluctant to go to bed. Those fainting episodes. Those were days I’d shed more than a few tears, knowing the end was coming, as well as out of frustration that I couldn’t make any of it better.

And then, a month ago, Mom left our nest for good.

Having just put her into hospice a few days before, she had the fall that led to her death.

Now my husband and I are facing an empty nest and another “new normal.” It’s a bit of a déjà vu, since we had been a twosome for many years before Mom arrived. Yet, there’s a large, empty space in our daily routine.

It’s much quieter now. And less stressful. This “new normal” might be the lull before the next storm. But for now, I’m just going to get through it.

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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