The sorrows of goodbye

I drove my youngest daughter to the airport on Tuesday
night.  She’ll be away for six
It’s not quite the empty nest
syndrome, but when I came home earlier in the afternoon after two days at the
beach with my husband and grandsons, a terrible pall descended and I recognised
the nagging sadness of farewell. 
My daughter will return and the six months of her time away
will pass soon enough, but things will never be the same again. 
A trip like this is bound to be life changing, especially for
my daughter, who is going to expand her mind, despite her ambivalence about
On the trip in the car on the way home after we had watched
her go through the opening into the departures zone, where people queue for
ages to get through customs and to their eventual flight, I told my daughter’s
boyfriend about the reasons for my desire to avoid travel except when
For him, my daughter’s leaving is saddest of all, as they’ve
not been long together.  She’s been planning
this university semester overseas for more than a year, well before they
recognised their connection. 
In any case, as we walked back to the car after our tearful
farewells, I told my daughter’s boyfriend how it was when I was a child when
relatives visited from Holland, or in the case of one of my uncles and his
immediate family, from Indonesia. 
The joy at the airport, the pleasure of my extended family in
Melbourne coming to greet relatives from overseas and my mother’s delight were
all palpable. 

But at the other end, when it came to say goodbye, my
mother’s grief swamped me as she waved to her father, on that last time she ever
saw him after he had walked through those doors.  
My grandfather was already in his late seventies and soon after his return to Holland
he developed blindness and later died at the age of eighty-six years.
 My mother was not able
to be with either of her parents when they died.  And both died not long
after respective trips to Australia.  The trips must have taken it out of
them, those long journeys by sea and later by air.
I can still feel my mother’s pleasure against her grief the
moment I go through those electronic doors at any airport.  
The crisp air-conditioned comfort inside, the
reams of people lugging suitcases across the walkways up and down escalators,
the people who mill around signboards to read the names of destinations, the
flight numbers and airline logos splattered in neat lines that keep rolling
There’s a sign to let you know that certain flights are
closed and if one was your flight you’re too late to take it now. 
And one to
tell you your loved one’s plane has landed and you rush down the
escalator to the arrivals section underground where all arrivals
disembark.  And wait and wait and wait
until your loved one has cleared customs. 
People hang over the iron bar with you and wait for the doors
to open to reveal their loved ones who are coming for the first time or
returning from a trip.
There’s a buzz in arrivals with the occasional whoop of joy
when some new longed for person goes through the double doors and looks to
right and to left along the corridor that leads out in either direction. 
They look to find someone they know, someone who’s expecting
them and when they lock eyes on that someone there’s the mutual grin of satisfaction,
the squeals of joy, the brisk movements that signify they’re together at last.
All this joy at arrivals, but on the next floor above we see
the sorrow of goodbyes where couples hug one another, families like ours give
one last squeeze to a departing daughter who will be back soon enough, but the
ghosts of past relatives who once went through the departure doors –
my aunts, uncles, cousins and my grandparents – hover on the sidelines. 
These relatives could not return.  Their lives were lived elsewhere, but for a
while during visits, their lives joined ours and we could be together in the
flesh.  But in that first hello, as Gillian Bouras writes, we heard
the echo of their goodbyes. 
We’ll skype and text and use Facebook I tell my daughter and
she tells me the same, but it’s not the same. 
The virtual world is a poor substitute for the real one,
where people like me who are not big on touching cannot reach out to touch, to
stroke a cheek, to hold a hand, to pat a back.  The deprivation seems
unbearable even as when we are together in person I might hold my distance. Now the
actual distance divides more acutely than any skype screen can allow.
My grandsons are young. 
They will wonder in a few days where their aunt is, but for now,
although we have told them she’s gone away for a few months, they cannot know
what her absence means. 
They will recognise it only in a slowly dawning sense of

More than our ovaries

My husband and I are about to
become empty nesters.  I first
heard the term, empty nester,  many
moons ago when I was studying psychology and social work at university.  Then I shuddered at the thought. 
In those days I found the idea of living in a quiet, largely empty house daunting. 
How do people do it?  Live alone? 
For all her struggles my mother
gave the impression that she too preferred to live in company.  In the hubbub of family life when her
every minute was circumscribed by some one else’s needs and her own wishes and
desires fitted further down at the bottom of the hierarchy, only after other
people’s needs had been met. 
For the past thirty or so years I
have viewed my own life similarly, though in recent years I have become more
‘selfish’ to use a word I loathe. 
More like a man, perhaps. 
Ever since I can remember I
marvelled at the way the men in my life, beginning with my father and my brothers, my husband too, never seemed to need to take their leave in the same
way we women and daughters have needed to. 
Why is this ?  A relic of the patriarchal ways, where
men are seemingly self determined and women tied to the apron strings of
children and the so-called kitchen sink. 
We women must account for ourselves and beg for leave. 
The phone rings.  I answer.
My youngest who left home last
night for her first night away in college asks if I can be around at 12.30
today to be there for her friend who plans to drop in to collect her camping
equipment which she had left with us as far back as January. 
I had planned to go off to do my
Keiser weight training at 12.00, something I try to fit in every Sunday
before the place closes.
‘If I’m not back yet your dad’ll be
here,’ I say. 
‘But he doesn’t know where everything
Even away from home my daughter has
needs, small needs but they intrude on the timetable of my day.
No matter, I tell myself.  I have always told myself.  I enjoy these incursions into my
day.  I am driven by the need/desire
to help others, beginning with my children, but sometimes my generosity wears
thin and resentment creeps in.
Be careful of what you wish for,
they say.  If you’re not careful
you might be left alone, a lonely old thing with no one to care about. 
Once years ago my mother complained
to me that she could no longer do anything for me, not like when I was a
child.  When I was a child I had
needed things from her, but not as an adult, not in the same way.   
And so we had grown apart as if our relationship was based entirely on her looking after me.
Now it’s in reverse. 
I’d like to think there is another
state whereby two adult women, mother and daughter, can relate in a type of friendship.  The pull of the past
as mother and daughter will never disappear entirely but maybe a different sort
of give and take might exist rather than the hard core mother to baby, daughter
to elderly mother experience of yesteryear and today. 
My daughters teach me new things
about the world.  They teach me so
much.  They keep me young.  Without them I fear my mind might shut
down.  They lead me in new
For instance:
Jo Wainer the wife of a doctor, Bertram Wainer, who was once repeatedly harassed by antiabortionists and politicians gave Ted Talk in Melbourne called Sex and the God trick.  In the talk among other things Jo discussed the ways in which most medicine is based on
the male body, as if women were males, too, only with ovaries.  She gave an example that stays
with me. 
Most of us have heard or read about
the typical signs of a heart attack. 
Tingling in the arms.  A
crushing sensation in the chest, as if, as one doctor once told me, an elephant
is sitting on your chest.  These
turn out to be typical symptoms for a man suffering a heart attack and a man
suffering these symptoms, if he knows about the signs and is not too far into
denial and fear, will call an ambulance and shift straight into cardiac care
where he might well be saved with less damage done, of course depending on the
severity of said heart attack. 
A woman, on the other hand, is
likely to feel nauseous and sweaty at the onset of her heartattack, very much off
colour, and her first impulse might be to call her daughter who will come over
and make her a cup of tea. 
In other words, it will take much
longer for the woman to call for an ambulance, by which time the consequences of
her heart attack are likely to be far more serious.
They do not teach these
distinctions to the general public or at medical school, says Jo Wainer.  When a man comes home from work after a
stressful day she reckons, he is likely to scream and yell, or put a fist
through the wall, whether literally or metaphorically.  
In other words he is likely to act out
his rage and frustration in some way or another. 
A woman, on the other hand, is
likely to act out her frustration and rage after a hard day by her tendency, as
Jo Wainer puts it, to ‘tend and befriend’. 
This notion rings bells for
me.  I am one who tends and befriends,
while my husband gets more into the out-with-it-rage variety or a total
withdrawal like a sleeping volcano. 
And I have often wondered why. 
Is it our hormones, our education,
our socialisation, or in our stars? 
I expect there are exceptions
and plenty with much in between but this dichotomy resonates for me.  
What do you think?  I ask.
The masculine and the feminine, the yin and
the yang and we all have a  bit of
both, only some tend to have more of one than the other, and not only
because of our gonads or ovaries.