When a couple's children move out on their own, the couple is sometimes said to experience the empty nest syndrome. After 18 or more years of raising a child, a couple sometimes has trouble going back to relating to each other as husband and wife, rather than as a co-parent. Sometimes they find that the children were the only thing keeping them together, or that they are strangers to each other after all those years. While being a dedicated parent is of course admirable, if one or both parents build their whole world around their children, that world is doomed to fall apart when the children are gone. There is danger, then, in making one's children the center or their world.
At the other end there is the empty arms syndrome, the experience that occurs when a couple loses an infant that they expected, in a perfect world, to have to hold.
Ben and I seem to be experiencing a combination of these symptoms. We are each suffering from Gabriel's absence, and we each suffer differently. Ben and Gabriel did their bonding in the early morning, while Gabriel and I tended to enjoy our moments together late at night, even during pregnancy. I find myself missing the feeling of carrying Gabriel during pregnancy, whereas Ben seems to miss Gabriel when he thinks of things they will not get to do together. In addition to missing Gabriel's presence, I find that I had created a world that was centered on Gabriel. Since Gabriel's diagnosis my time has been spent learning about anencephaly, preparing for his birth, and creating a legacy for Gabriel. Ben had slipped into his role as a provider, focusing on work, and I felt alone in my world with Gabriel.
Now we are struggling to again become familiar with each other as husband and wife. We are changed people, a different man and woman than the one we each married. We are still parents, but we are parents without a child, parents with both an empty nest and empty arms and a permanent hollow in our hearts. The experience of losing Gabriel touches us each differently and has made relating to each other difficult, but all the more necessary. The statistics for couples following the death of a child are against us. We know that we must work hard to defy the odds, as hard as Gabriel worked to stay with us for ten days. Yet we are exhausted and sometimes it only takes one day where neither of us feels like putting in the work to undo several days of progress. We are facing an uphill battle.
Last Friday Ben came home from work early to report that he had resigned from his position at the Marriott. Looking back, I suppose I saw it coming. Just one week earlier we had a serious conversation about his desire to find another job. At the Marriott Ben enjoyed a comfortable salary, medical benefits, and discount hotel rates for those rare occasions when we were able to get away. I had the luxury of being picky about which cases I would take and how much I had to charge, and I was able to work part-time in a job that I love. Selfishly, when Ben reported his resignation to me, I immediately thought about how all of the perks would now come to an end. We always knew that when Ben left that Marriott he would take a reduction in pay. I see now that he was under tremendous pressure, to be the husband that I needed, the provider that I wanted, and the employee that the Marriott demanded. He hated doing banquets, but banquets were the lifeblood at the Marriott and he had to focus on them, all while also running a restaurant, and with no sous chef. A 12 hour day was not unusual for him before Gabriel was born. Even while Gabriel was alive, he was touching bases with work, doing food orders and fielding phone calls. He burned himself out, and I stood back and watched.
My first response to Ben's resignation was anger, but I tried to take a step back and find the opportunity in the situation. Thanks to generous donations for Gabriel's care, we were able to hang on to some of our savings, enough to ensure that at least one more month's rent would be paid. Now that Ben had no job, he would be forced to look seriously at what else was out there, but we knew that our savings had bought us a month if we needed it.
Weekends are not an appropriate time to seek employment in the restaurant industry, so Ben took last weekend to formulate a plan. Monday morning he went to the Marriott to clean out his office. He reported that turning closing his office door for the last time saddened him a bit. He was closing the door on his first executive chef position, and as there are few such positions available he did not know when or if he might have one again. He grew considerably at the Marriott, even if the Marriott and Ben ultimately outgrew each other.
But when one door closes, another eventually opens. After leaving the Marriott Monday morning, Ben went to two restaurants to speak with the managers. By Tuesday he was scheduled for two Wednesday interviews. By Wednesday evening, he had a job offer. I cannot express enough how very proud of Ben I was. He moved to Bakersfield and started to develop his reputation as a chef less than three years ago. In that time he has established himself as a valuable asset to a restaurant. Ben starts his job with Moo Creamery, a small, locally owned restaurant with a modern soda-fountain/creamery concept, next Monday. He has been interested in learning more about the operations of Moo Creamery since the first time he set foot in the place and he will learn as much from the experience there as he will be able to bring to them. I strongly believe Moo is exactly where Ben was meant to be at this point in his life, and that what seems to be a step down in title will actually be the catalyst for much future success.
I'm not quite sure how I could have ever doubted that everything would work out just fine. God has held us closely and given us everything we needed especially in the last year.
When Ben starts his new job next week, our empty nest will get a little emptier. After Gabriel's death Ben never did go back to work with the same drive, and accordingly to work the same hours, that he did before, but I know he will approach his new job with full-force. In a perfect world Ben would have Gabriel here and he might be hesitant to work so many hours right now, but in a world where parents lose their babies those parents have to find a reason to go on and Ben has found some reason in Moo Creamery.
I don't know where life will take my professional career next. Nearly three weeks after my interview I still haven't heard from the Public Defender's office and I have lost nearly all hope for a job offer this round. I have faith in the perfection of God's plan, even if it's not my own and I will go where He leads me. He hasn't steered me wrong so far.