July 25, 2023

Building my Empty Nest after Too Much Loss.

As my younger daughter graduated from high school and began preparing for college in the fall, I could feel my spirits descending.

I thought I needed some concrete images to remind me of my missing girls. My oldest daughter was home for the summer, so I decided the three of us would paint a fanciful memorial of our years together.

There’s an old barn in our backyard. It was unattractive and blank, just begging for some decoration. The girls really didn’t want to participate; I had to shame them into it, appealing to their pity for their soon-to-be-forsaken mother.

We set about drawing and painting all sorts of playful images: a flying pink llama, a fairy, the Greek water nymph Daphne who became a tree, cattails to represent my husband’s sturdiness, an orchid to represent my fragility, our pair of ducks, a squirrel, a wisteria vine, and the sun and the moon. It was everything I had hoped for.

That was 40 years ago, and it’s still there. It has brought smiles and conversations for years.

As treasured as the barn paintings were, they ushered in my seemingly inevitable depression. There were too many losses: I left nursing after making a mistake and losing all my acquired confidence, our beloved Lab died, and both daughters were gone to North Carolina to study. I needed another concrete way to feel the grief.

I thought about how birds are so accepting of their fledglings leaving, of the seasons changing, of loss. Then again, who am I to analyze the avian state of mind. All I really knew was that my mind and body needed something meaningful to do, and so I decided to build a human-sized nest in our back yard.

I began by walking in the woods behind our property to survey available nest-building materials. It seemed as if grape vines were plentiful and strong enough. I approached Michael about accompanying me to I. Goldberg to purchase a machete, a tool that I thought would feel good in my hands and do the job.

Once I had the machete, I began cutting vines and dragging them home. (By the way, I highly recommend the use of large-bladed tools to release aggression.) It became clear that a frame would be needed to support the structure, so Michael pounded about 10 four-foot-high stakes in the ground to form a circle. We positioned it over our animal graveyard, under the Spirit Tree, a name our eldest gave the beautiful, old Kentucky Coffee tree.

I set about cutting, weaving, and wiring the tough vines in place, and within days we had a three-foot-high nest about 10 feet in diameter. We purchased a rope hammock with a stand, and I assembled it inside the nest. It was perfect: a place of containment that was open and allowed me to gaze up at the sky through the beautiful leaves of the tree.

The little boy next door came over and stared.

“I really like that thing you built,” he said.

“It’s my nest, and you can come inside whenever you want.”

He ran home and didn’t return.

As Christmas approached, I put strings of lights around the nest, which made it resemble a helicopter landing pad.

After many months, when I’d grieved sufficiently, my spirits began to brighten. I told Michael that I didn’t need the nest anymore. He never said a word, just began disassembling it and quietly returning the structure from whence it came.


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