We married under the shadow of the Golden Dome in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of May 31, 1986, a year after graduating from Notre Dame. Those early years were lean, yet precious, filled with Greg’s graduation from medical school and mine with a Master’s degree earned part-time while working for Vanderbilt University. We ate a lot of rice-a-roni and ramen back then, with dates nights that consisted of cheap white zinfandel and a .99 movie rental. The context never mattered – we simply couldn’t get enough of being together.
Life took us next to Los Angeles, for Greg’s residency program in Emergency Medicine where long hours of work for both of us was the key to building solid careers. In 1991, along came little Eric Michael followed by precious Adam Patrick three years later. The 90’s were filled with “firsts”: first child, first home that was ours, first retirement (mine, from full time work to stay home with our boys), first car payment, first parish where we were officially registered, first discussions about schools for our boys, and even our first “last will and testament”.
We looked at one another and wondered how we could be so “grown up” when we felt so amazingly young.
Fast forward twenty-one years and you’ll find us still wondering that same thing. This summer finds Greg and me perched on the edge of being “empty nesters”. With Eric starting his senior year at Harvard and Adam about to enter the University of Oregon, we’re wondering aloud about things like downsizing our house and what to do when our spare time isn’t filled with “Watch the boys do…”, “Help the boys with….” and “Make sure the boys…”.
I can’t give you the “keys” to life without children as the focal point of your Domestic Church – this phase, looming so very large in our lives, is only just beginning for us. From the small experiences we’ve had when both boys have been away at camp, I can tell you that I’m confident we’ll overcome that, “This feels so weird” sensation that rings in your head for an hour or two after they’re away.
I also have the tremendous role model of my own parents, my personal marriage mentors, who have guided me with so many non-verbal love lessons in their over fifty years of marriage. From them, I have learned to:
- Focus on the new ways in which it’s possible to have fun and spontaneity in your marriage when the busyness of family life begins to settle out.
- Plan scrupulously when it comes to family finances, in able to have a secure future for yourselves and your family. This includes having the difficult discussions about things that may occur health-wise as you and your spouse age.
- Maintain good contact with your grown children, but also give them space, even when this means them making mistakes along life’s path. Be there as a constant source of support and love, especially as continual “prayer warriors” for your children.
- Keep Christ as the focal point of your marriage. That holy Sacrament that brought us together provides us the grace we need to venture into uncharted territory. Pray with and for one another unceasingly.
As I spend the summer with a “to do” list filled with items like “buy extra long sheets for dorm bed” or “make sure registration forms are filled out”, every once in a while I steal a quick glance at my amazing husband, my best friend for 27 years and counting. In these moments, pondering my blessings, I anticipate the vast potential of all that our empty nest will hold for us and get (don’t tell my kids) excited.
Our nest will never be empty – we have each other, and a God who loves us so greatly that he showers us with enough love to warm an iceberg. Through him, with him, and in him, life is beautiful.
Lisa M. Hendey, wife and mom
of two young adults sons, is the founder of www.CatholicMom.com and the author of A Book
of Saints for Catholic Moms. Learn
more about her writing and speaking at www.LisaHendey.com.