We heard about the syndrome from the time our first son was born. According to the reports, we would cry each time one of our kids began Kindergarten. It didn’t happen because we rejoiced at the opportunities opened to learn and socialize.
Leaving elementary didn’t upset us either. Or graduating from high school. As each of them went away to college leaving behind empty beds, we did feel a bit of loneliness. At the same time, however, they were learning to make important life decisions as they grew into the adults they are now.
What helped was that a variety of four-legged animals lived with us, beginning in 1975 shortly after we bought our house. Lucky Lady, a Dalmatian, was our first of many. She was so smart that she blew us away with all she understood and could do. When Tim was born in 1976 she became his protector, staying by his side no matter where he was. After learning to jump the fence, she hips went bad. She was in tremendous pain, so the decision was hard, but not impossible.
When Lady was still alive we brought home Scamp, an Australian shepherd puppy mix who was so timid that she hid under furniture. Lady died making Scamp the only dog until a large dog appeared in our garage as I was folding laundry. My friend Penny told me she was part wolf. We believed her because she had an independent streak and often took off down the street. We called her Babe for Paul Bunyan’s big blue ox. Unfortunately Babe and Scamp had a bit of a mix-up, Scamp’s paw got injured and never healed. Scamp had bone cancer. Babe was now the only dog.
Babe developed mange, a nasty, sticking patch on her backside. No medications helped. It grew and grew and made her miserable. Then her hips went out. I had to pick up this huge dog and get her in the house. When Mike came home from work we knew what decision had to be made.
For a bit of time we had not dog, but helping my friend Penny search for a new dog, we found a cute puppy at the pound. He was part Border collie. We put in our names as potential adoptees and won. MacTavish was very sick, dying actually. Penny taught us how to force feed him. Because of her he grew into an incredibly awesome dog.
His quirky personality kept us jumping. He outsmarted us every day. When Mike retired Mac was his constant companion.
When Mac was recovering he became quite lonely. He needed something to keep him busy so I also adopted a Spaniel from a different pound. Majesty was not the easiest dog to live with. She was stubborn and didn’t take to training. Fortunately Mac let her boss him around.
Both lived to be in their teens. Majesty lost her sight and hearing and her ability to control her bowels. Mac’s hips went out. It was sad losing them both.
When Tim was about three he found a stray cat at church that he wanted to take home. We told him that if she was there the next day, he could have her. Tim made us go to church early. The cat was there, clearly hungry. Tim held her during mass while I sat on the steps with him. He called her Cupcake Eater Connelly. Cuppie was kind and gentle. She tolerated kids.
After Cuppie was getting up in years, a new neighbor moved in next door and got a chow. Cuppie was used to going over the fence. Had never been threatened. The neighbor let the chow out just as Cuppie went over the fence. He didn’t know it was our cat so failed to tell us. A week later when Cuppie still had not appeared, I asked the neighbor. He was embarrassed and offered to buy us a new cat.
Cuppie was not our only cat at the time because when Christine was in fourth grade, she chose a tortoiseshell calico cat, named Cali. Cali rode across Christine’s shoulders. She wasn’t the smartest cat we’ve owned, but she was sweet. She was still alive after Christine graduated from college, got married and had Emily. One time when they were visiting I looked out back and saw little Emily carrying Cali by the tail. Cali did not scratch or fight. Amazing.
Josie appeared shortly after Cali died. Mike was changing into hiking boots to go camping when a tiny kitten walked out of his closet. How did she get there? We never knew, but we accepted her into our home. Josie was sweet and loving.
When Josie was getting old, I was at a pet food store on adoption day. There were tuxedo sisters up for adoption. Two for the price of one. They were named Violet and Lavendar, but we called them Missy and something else. The problem was that Mike left the door open on their second day in our house. Missy stayed but the other ran away. We never got her back.
Missy filled Josie’s paw prints when Josie died. Missy was the kind of cat you could pick up and carry around. She’d sit on your lap forever. She loved being brushed. Great purr. But she fell ill a few years late just before we were heading to Tim and Kate’s house back east. We left her at the vet’s. He called us. Kidney failure.
That meant no cats left. But…the vet knew someone who rescued cats and she just happened to have siblings ready for adoption. When we got home that woman brought over the cats. Both were short-hair, heads and bodies shaped somewhat like a Siamese. Both ran and hid under our bed.
We couldn’t get the female out, so the woman returned and took her back home. The boy named Taffy stayed because he was curious and wanted to explore. We changed his name to Tuffy.
A few years after Tuffy moved in I heard that someone had a Maine Coon cat up for adoption. I went to see her at a per store. She was incredibly placid. Long fir that would need brushing. Long, pointed ears. And huge! I picked her up and almost dropped her.
In a cage near her was a thin pure black cat. I’d never wanted a black cat, but this little guy was spunky. He pushed a toy through the bars. I picked it up and stuffed it inside. He immediately pushed it through then looked at me with huge eyes. I fell in love. His name was Coal. He was a lap-sitter. He loved petting and curling up. He was smart and gentle.
Tuffy, at this point, was still somewhat aloof. He allowed Coal to sit in laps and absorb all loving. Tuffy preferred being outside. He was born feral, and we both assumed that even though he’d been rescued young, that wildness was still there.
Coal fell ill. He cried when touched. The vet discovered that his chest was filled with fluid. For some bizarre reason we paid for expensive treatments which failed. The day we brought Coal home he died before we walked through the door.
Tuffy was now the only cat, the only four-legged critter. He slowly took over the job of sitting in laps, rubbing legs, begging for food. His personality changed. He was no longer aloof, but a big lover.
We knew he would be the last. We love to travel, our kids don’t live nearby, and we’re getting older. It wouldn’t be fair to bring an animal into our home knowing that our kids would someday have to decide what to do with it. Therefor no more dogs or cats.
For the first time since 1975 we have no critters roaming about. No fur on the floor or sticking to the furniture. No fur on my black pants or clumping on my sleeves. No clicking of toenails on the wood floors. No one greeting me when I come home. No one staring forlornly through the sliding glass door out back. No meows or barks. No treats. No food to put in bowls and no water to be refreshed.
It’s weird and a bit lonely.
Our house, however, is till filled with noise.
Somewhere along the way after our kids had all gone off to college I decided to return to being a bird keeper. Before I met Mike I had had two cages of parakeets that I spoiled rotten, but by the time we got married they had all died.
One day, for some strange reason, I read the want ads and saw lovebirds and cockatiels for sale. Before I called, I visited a pet store and looked at both types. The lovebirds were small and had a very loud screech. The cockatiels were bigger, but quiet. I checked out books from the library and read about the care of both.
Convinced that cockatiels would be the best, I called and made an appointment to see them one day after school. Yes, there were differences in size and in appearance. The cockatiels were huge, had feathers that stuck up over their heads giving them a regal look, and were fairly calm. They didn’t startle when the young man put his hand in the cage.
The lovebirds were beautiful. They had orange patches on their cheeks and deep green plumage. They were far from regal because they screeched and fought back. They exhibited a personality that intrigued me. I brought them home.
After that first pair I saw an ad for another, only $40 for both birds and cage. They were young and turned out to be a mating couple. Before long we had a clutch of eggs. Fortunately they didn’t hatch, but the next two clutches did. We kept two of the baby birds and found homes for the rest.
Another ad inspired me to buy two cockatiels. They were not tame and never would be. They were quiet, which was fine as the lovebird screeches filled our house with sound. They were so big that I had to buy a special cage. A huge cage!
This was my third cage, but I didn’t mind because I loved them. It took a lot of work to keep the cages clean. As the birds died off, I went down to two cages, then more recently one.
I decided that the lovebirds were lonely and I’d always wanted black-faced lovebirds, so I bought two. One died in the first week. Eventually one of the cockatiels died, so then I moved an older lovebird in with the remaining cockatiel and the one black faced lovebird, Rolo.
Rolo was a character. He understood my commands. He didn’t speak, but when I told him to go home, he returned to the cage. I never tamed him but he knew when I was around.
He died a few weeks ago.
All we have left now is a sixteen year old lovebird. She could die any day, but right now she’s quite happy being alone. She sings all day long. She’s mean, though, When I stick my hand in to change food or water she attacks.
Once she dies, there will be no more birds. No cages to clean, no seed to buy, no toys to rotate.
At that point our house will be empty of animals with no intent of bringing new in to take their places.
Perhaps then we will experience empty nest syndrome in all its manifestations. Or maybe we’ll be content with the memories of all the dogs, cats, birds, and oh yes, lest I forget, the tropical fish that moved into the house with us 46 years ago.
I realize that it will be just another stage in my life, and for that reason, I am not saddened as I look into the future.
Our nest will not truly be empty as we will have each other and all the spirits of the many critters that we were blessed to have. We have wonderful adult kids and their significant others. We have talented grandchildren that we don’t get to see enough of, but we know they are a long drive away.
We have been blessed in many ways. Our home has been filled with love both given and received. God has found ways to be with us. He will continue to do so.