Being an Empty Nester With RAby Cathy Kramer Patient Advocate
At six and eight years old, my children started noticing my fingers were “big” and that I struggled to get down the stairs each morning. Even though they were young, they sensed my pain and did everything they could to help me. As they asked questions about my changing body, I often wondered if, as a mother with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I would be able to give them all that they needed as children. Fortunately, I was. In fact, as they get older and show signs of soon leaving the nest, I realize that whatever I was able to give them has come back to me twofold in what they have given me.
My children have always been aware of the limitations on my body. They have each adjusted by caring for me in a way that meets who they are as individuals. I refer to my son as my protector because he has always kept an eye out for me to make sure my feelings were not hurt by mean doctors, and because he has been by my side whenever something heavy needed to be lifted. My daughter is my cheerleader, always reminding me to focus on the positives and cheering me on when flares lessen.
As we begin discussing “when you move out” or “when you have a place of your own,” I am selfishly preparing myself for the many things I will miss about my kids being home that benefit my RA.
It occurred to me one day when I announced to a friend that I don’t use adaptive equipment for my RA, that there was a good reason for that — my children are my adaptive equipment. They have opened child-proof medicine bottles for me since day one. They open jars and cans. They willingly trade forks with me, so I have the thickest one we own.
On rough days, my children have gone grocery shopping with me and carried all the groceries in themselves. While daily walking is one of my joys in life, I often warn them the night before that I might need them to take over dog walking the next day based on how my body feels. When I put in extra hours at work, my son takes over cooking and cleaning without saying a word. He knows I will help him any way I can, and he never hesitates to give back to me when I need it most. Not only does this kind action help my tired RA body, but it warms my heart in a way that seems to melt away some of the fatigue and pain.
When my son and daughter move on, which I know will come soon, I will miss how perceptive they are about me. They quickly sense when I am in pain and willingly listen to me complain about a body that continues to be unpredictable. I will miss that they remind me that I have taken on too much and that might be the cause of my recent flare. Mostly, I will miss the warm hugs they provide when they see tears growing in my eyes.
Filling in the gaps
When our children leave the nest, the only real comfort we have as parents is that we raised them to be responsible caring people and they will take those lessons with them. But as a parent who has come to rely so heavily on my children, how will I adjust?
For the last few years, I have started building a life outside of my children, knowing they will leave soon. My husband and I now enjoy more outings alone together. I am working full-time in a new job that allows me to rest as needed. I have added friends to my social circle who understand my RA needs, so I have a larger group to lend support. But most importantly, I know my children will continue to be a part of my life going forward. We will text food photos and send hug emojis to let each other know we are thinking of the other one. We will continue to share the ups and downs of life and support each other as needed in person and through our cell phones that are just a pocket away. I know this to be true because we have been building up to this day all their lives. They will be fine. I will be fine. They may leave the warm nest of a home my husband and I have created for them, but we will never leave each other’s hearts, which is the number one thing I depend on them for each day.