It is coming. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you will. It is that time in the life of each parent when the last child leaves for college and that extra room is vacant. You wonder how your life is going to go on after 18 years of caring for this child. But you will survive.

A part of you wants to let that person go and another part wants to hold on. You have struggled through adolescence with your child and have assumed you would feel relief when the child is out of the house and on his own. You are finding stress in the breaking of the bond you have built up. That is normal. If only there was someone who could hold your hand and reassure you that you did the right thing.

Now there is. This book is written by 31 parents as they tell you that there is life beyond the empty nest. They made it. You will, too. As Jon Carroll writes at the end of his essay, ”This is why we do it. This is why we put up with disagreements and defeats and disappointments. This is why the work of the family is worth going through. There are moments of grace and satisfaction too deep for words, and we should all be so lucky.”

One parent observed: ”I learned the best secret, which is that ‘Empty’ is a temporary state, Whether it applies to family or to work, life fills up again.”

Another parent observed, “Looking back, I think that this abrupt entry into a new stage was like a cage door swinging open for a zoo animal. I didn’t immediately realize that I was free.”

Harry Shearer in his essay concludes, “And so, as those kids stand smart and strong on the doorstep of their adulthoods, our nest, never yet having been full, won’t be really empty.”

But empty nest isn’t only because of a child going away to college. There is an essay here by Lee Smith called “Goodbye To The Sunset Man.” She tells the story of her son who died during sleep of an enlarged heart.

“Brought about, in part, I believe, by all the weight he had gained while taking an antipsychotic drug. He was 33.” The parents are taking a boat ride to dump the ashes. “Night falls on the schooner ride back to Key West. I clutch the bronze vial that held some of Josh’s ashes, tracing its engraved design with my finger. The wind blows my hair. The young couple in front of us are making out.”

Not all empty nest experiences are that sad.

Editor Karen Stabiner does a great service by collecting these essays. Stabiner is a writer on the subject of contemporary culture and has appeared in the opinion section of the Los Angeles Times. Her work has also appeared in Gourmet, Vogue and in The Oprah Magazine. She released her daughter, Sarah, to college recently. Along with her husband they live in their empty nest in Santa Monica

Enjoy your empty nest. Now is the time to catch up on your reading. Contact Dane Robert Swanson at

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