For the first time in 32 years, John and I were spending Christmas and New Year holiday alone, without at least one of our three daughters. Maybe it’s because of my being a mother, that I seem to be more affected by the “empty nest syndrome,” than John is. Sensing my loneliness, he stayed close to keep me occupied, entertained and reassured.
John’s diversionary tactics included two nights at Ridgewood Residences in Baguio, a leisurely 3-hour outdoor lunch at Cantinetta in Camp John Hay, a candlelit dinner at Mario’s (one of our favorite restaurants), and a productive morning meeting with the Baguio chapter of ASP (Autism Society of the Philippines).
Coming down to Manila to fulfill a promise to join the ASP UP Diliman chapter’s photography workshop, we spent a full day with children with autism and about 20 volunteer photographers.
The following day, we went ultralight flying in Pampanga, a thrilling activity he has not done in a long time. He took me up and we flew over the rice fields of Pampanga, He spent more time flying while I chatted with old friend and former flying club manager, Mel Troth.
On the day before New Year’s, he took me to Serendra which offers many choices for restaurants, and the promenade mall that I prefer over big shopping centers. We chose Chelsea, where we opted for something light - a salad and a pizza - and a long conversation. Then we strolled over to Fully Booked, our favorite bookstore. We grabbed the books that we fancied, sat on chairs that faced each other, and managed to read and talk without disturbing anyone. When we got tired of sitting down, we went out to have a stroll on High Street, getting in and out of shops, fully content just to look. Characteristically, I waited while John checked out Recreational Outdoor Exchange. On the other hand, John was very uncharacteristically patient and even joined me in browsing at furniture and homestyle shops. To cap the day, we went back to Fully Booked for Starbucks coffee and tea. He never once rushed me, and seemed indeed to enjoy having a slow day for a change.
We promised the household staff that we would join them for a New Year’s eve dinner. Norma cooked our favorite stuffed chicken, and served chestnuts and round fruits - grapes and small oranges - which to Filipino-Chinese families signify prosperity. By 8pm, we were done with dinner and just needed to wait for midnight to come.
I was tired and feeling a bit blue (must come from spending the holidays without my children, no matter that they are grown), and decided that I would nap for a short while. I asked John to wake me up at 11:30 but at 11, he, too was ready to crawl into bed. He told me to put my cellphone to silent, and he did the same with his.
Half-asleep, I could see my phone’s light flashing on and off, which it does when there were incoming calls. I turned the lamp on and saw that I missed three calls by Kathy, and one by Sacha’s friend Clair. I returned Kathy’s call and she said she was on Skype. While I turned on my computer, I called up Clair. We greeted each other Happy New Year, and she told me that Kathy had called to tell her that I was not answering my phone, and asked her to find out what was happening.
Kathy and her John came online to greet us at the stroke of midnight (plus half an hour before and another hour after), and witness the fireworks in the part of the sky that was visible from our window (as picked up by the built-in webcam on my computer).
The following day, the first day of the year, I was filled with tremendous sadness and loneliness. Neither Ching nor Sacha had called to greet us, and I felt totally devastated. I felt so bad that I did not want to get out of bed - and John saw right away that the monstrous feeling he kept trying to protect me from had succeeded in invading my heart. I felt unloved, unappreciated, and unworthy. It was a painful emptiness. As I was beginning to bash myself with crucifying questions like “where did I fail, did I not raise my children well,” John just very quietly held me in his arms and whispered, “Don’t feel alone, I’m here.”
To keep me from feeling blue, he asked me to dress up and we went out to look for a restaurant that was open on New Year’s Day. Even nearby Cash and Carry was considered far enough as to distract me from our empty and quiet house. The supermarket was closed and so was the food court, but the fastfood restaurants were open. We had lunch at Pancake House, a family favorite.
All through out New Year’s Day and for the next few days, whether we were at home or visiting favorite places, John’s glance would come my way, and if I showed the slightest sign of loneliness, he would come near me and whispher, “I’m here.”
John’s strategy worked. His schedule of events for us, his patience and reassuring message all helped us (actually, me) survive Christmas and New Year’s as emptynesters. And now that regular work days have resumed, there’s been little time to feel lonely. In addition, Ching and her John came to visit twice (in January and in February), our Skype sessions with Sacha are back on regular schedule (every Sunday night), and Kathy and her John are back from Holland.
We’re back on track.
P.S. Now, before anyone makes the same mistake I did, let me tell you what happened on New Year’s eve (something I did not discover until two weeks later) - it turned out that something went wrong with my gmail, preventing it from delivering mail addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org. I discovered greetings from Sacha, Ching and many, many friends and relatives when I checked our server and saw more than two hundred undelivered and unopened messages.
Ching, 32, lives with her husband in Singapore, and could not come home, as they had planned a holiday vacation in Sarawak, Borneo.
Kathy, 28, and her John, were in Holland to spend Christmas and New Year’s with his parents and to arrange for their wedding there in the spring. Kathy was a bit worried that we would be too lonely all by ourselves, so up to the last minute, she tried to persuade us to spend Christmas in Holland.
Sacha, 25, said she could not afford a third trip to the Philippines this year, having come home to visit us in March and August, but promised that she would be here on Christmas 2009.