Life Begins

For men life begins when the last child leaves home and the dog dies. Well, that is what has happened. It’s just us now.


Phil and I hold each other in the small exam room in the Vet’s office.  Phoebe, our 14 year old Lab is with Dr Sven in back. He is starting an IV line and is giving her a little something to make her sleepy, in readiness for the big sleep.  She is suffering from many things an old dog endures–joint pain, hearing loss, anxiety, vestibular disease, laryngeal paralysis. We agree it is time she has a rest after her good, long, happy life.

Phil tells me he is proud of me, that I am willing to let Phoebe go.  He left the timing up to me, knowing it would be so hard.  He reminds me, “One journey is over, a new one is starting.”

We are unfettered with the demands of the feeding of others. We can make unplanned stops, stay late, even overnight, no one is expecting us.  Home is quiet, empty, dusty.

It’s the Empty Nest or Table for Two lifestyle* we are living now.  Call it what you like. I think I will call it “The becoming”.

two chairs


Our oldest is married and has returned with her husband after three years in New York, buying a house and having their first child. Our son is also in town after a time in Seattle. Our youngest is living and working in Chicago.

Phil is retired now.  He left a technology company he formed, grew and sold.  He says it nearly killed him.  The hours. Stress of 24/7 service, the hacks.  And his almost heart attack confirmed it. On our 27th wedding anniversary, after dinner and a walk, we spent the night at the Heart Hospital and more recently, just this past January it happened again. More stents placed in his heart.

He spends more time at the cabin these days, working, fixing, tending.  He loves it there. Can be without the trappings of city life. No Lattes. No traffic or Sudoku puzzles in the daily newspaper. He meanders. Talks to the guys at the lumber yard. Gets his hair cut for 15 dollars. Watches over the propane tank fill, reports on the stars when he calls me before bed.

Anna Quindlen says in her memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, “First I was who I was, then I didn’t know who I was.  Then, I invented someone and became her. Then, I began to like what I’d invented.  And finally I was what I was again.”  I think of it this way: The someone I have been involves others; loved ones who are central in my life, and now I am finding them away from me, so that part of myself needs to recede and reshape.  My children need me in a different way or maybe less, or not at all.  I find myself asking myself, “Who am I to them now?”

Confidant? Bank roller? Enforcer? Overseer? Keeper?


* Dividing family life into three stages is a common practice of sociologists and financial planners. Often segmented neatly into thirds–the beginning, middle and end. First stage, also called “getting acquainted” stage, begins when two people establish themselves as a couple, identify shared resources and goals, ending when the first child comes.  Then the middle or the expansion stage. This is when the action really happens– a bigger house, more kids, more stuff, school, college, expenses, trying to keep up. It ends when the last child leaves.  Now, ready or not here comes the last stage–a time of contraction. Less of everything is needed now, smaller spaces, less time for paid work, more time for creative interests, and travel.  Some hardships may come– physical limits, illness, troubles, caring for elders.  We may welcome new members to the family–spouses and grandchildren, and say goodbye to others.  It is a period of adjustment.

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