THE PAIN OF NEVER AGAIN
The emptiness of the nest and the pain of the family diaspora.
Wisdom has it that if a man has a daughter, he has her for life. If he has a son, he has him until he has a wife. What if, like me, you have three sons, all of them married and two of them having just started on producing progeny at a rate which can’t be good for the planet? (The third and eldest has stopped causing population growth … but his son and daughter? Any day now.)
My wife and I live in a house which is much too big for us, but for many years the spaces we did not use ourselves, were regularly filled with sons and daughters in law, and before that, just sons, sometimes all three of them at the same time for long weekends or even longer visits. Long walks together, big barbeques, weather permitting, chaos in the kitchen as all of us became cooks at the same time. This is a family of foodies, and we are all capable of producing foodie-goodies, loving the process as much as the product. Not to mention wine-o-philes. Plenty of that, too. Endlessly entertaining hours of discussion, sometimes heated, always enjoyed. Late nights, sometimes just watching movies, sometimes playing games, always talking. Love all around.
Not any more. The house is quite big, but not big enough to accommodate (without counting grown-up grandchildren) five adults and what will soon be five grandchildren, all under five years old, all at the same time. So my wife and I are getting used to the idea that the pain of never-again is now with us for good. Never again will all of us be in this house at the same time. Never again will we all sit around the long table in the conservatory, eating, drinking, talking. Never again will the kitchen be full of all those morning-bleary people seeking coffee and toast, happily getting in one another’s way. Never again the delight of watching a small convoy of cars arriving at the same time to clog our driveway to disgorge a horde, all happy to be here. At home.
It does not help, of course, that “home”, meaning the parental base, is at the far and pointy end of Cornwall, about 300 miles from London where two of the three sons live, and about 150 from Bath where the third one does. Nor does it help that, being South African, 300 miles is a trip around the corner. But on really good trunk roads there, with very little traffic. In England, unless one travels at night, it is moving gridlock most of the way, and those 300 miles turn into six and a half hours, on a good day. It has taken as long as ten, door to door. So aside from the too-small-big-house, the distance-time factor is a major off-put.
I’m well aware that many UK-based parents have offspring who live in Australia, New Zealand and other places equally far away, and see them achingly seldom, but being selfish about it, their pain does not diminish mine.
So now, it’s a matter of sucking up the pain as time, I hope, dulls it gradually. And we are now looking seriously at downsizing dramatically, anyway, so the great Grierson gatherings will never again happen other than in large rented self-catering villas, somewhere, and not often. And the pain of never-again has nothing to do with the Covid lockdown by the way. The virus has hardly made any difference.
The nest has done its job. I must leave it at that. And later, I will wrestle Zoom into submission and have the pleasure of virtually seeing and virtually hearing the full clan in one place. On a screen, in our large and mostly empty front room.