That Empty Space

This past Sunday I traveled back to Minnesota to visit my dad. When I visit him now, it feels like his house. It took me a while to get to this point, the point where visiting him isn’t mostly incredibly sad because my mom is no longer there to visit too. For quite a while after my mother died, just walking around in their house or in their yard was really hard, really sad and made me physically and emotionally upset.

My mother’s presence was gone, but at the same time it was everywhere. I could actually feel it.

I guess I have finally made some progress on this journey of being a daughter without a mother.

This latest visit with my dad at his house was quite pleasant, although all visits/events of this kind are now ones with considerably less fanfare than when my mother was in charge of such things. At the end of our visit, we said our goodbyes and I drove away like I always do now, thinking about how our saying goodbye routine has changed since my mother‘s passing.

My mother was the “queen of goodbyes.” She perfected the simple act of saying goodbye following every visit into an art form. Saying goodbye after a visit with her was something that could never be ignored or hurried. Sometimes I think she purposely made goodbyes a lengthy process in order to extend our visits as long as possible.

These days when I visit my dad, one thing that really stands out to me, is that our goodbyes are different. Mostly, they are much quicker.

Another thing I notice is that this goodbye time is a time I really miss my mom and I always will. I miss those long goodbyes she loved so much.

Even now when I get into my car and pull out of the driveway, I still expect to see my mother standing there on the front porch or on the driveway waving to me as I drive off. Instead, now all I see is that empty space where she is supposed to be standing.

I’ve become more accustomed to that empty feeling in the house. It no longer bothers me as much when I’m there, but I’ll never become accustomed to seeing that empty space where she is supposed to be standing when I drive away.

It’s just an empty space, but yet it’s so much more…

Just like you always hear from the “experts,” it’s so often those simple things you miss the most about someone when they are gone. It doesn’t even have to be something tangible. It might be their scent. It might be a particular mannerism. It might be a certain expression on their face. It might be their laugh. It might be the way their presence filled up a room.

Or it might be the way they said goodbye.

Note:  I wrote an essay called, “The Queen of Goodbyes,” which was published in the October 2010 issue of Grief Digest magazine. Here is a link to it in case you’d like to read it. queenofgoodbyes

Are goodbyes a big deal in your family?

Does your family have an empty space?

What is something you miss about a lost loved one?



My mom’s roses 


30 thoughts to “That Empty Space”

  1. Oh Nancy I felt that “empty space” just reading this. My Dad makes a big deal of goodbyes, just like his parents did. They’d always walk me out, watch me get in my car and the shout out ” mind how you go!”. My Dad says exactly the same thing when we say our goodbyes. I think these things must be hereditary because I do it too.

    1. Anna, Thanks for sharing about how your family says goodbye. I think this single act provides an interesting glimpse into a family’s dynamics. I also think it’s kind of nice you are saying the same things your dad has always said when he says his goodbyes. Continue the tradition!

  2. I know exactly how you feel! I haven’t been back to my parents’ house since my mom died 5 yrs ago — it’s too hard because she’s everywhere yet painfully absent. My relationship with my dad is different, too; still good, but Mom was the glue and was “in charge of things” like yours was. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to being a daughter without a mother, but the grief is much less raw. Hugs to you!

    1. Pinkunderbelly, I totally understand your feelings, although it’s a bit sad you haven’t been back to your parents’ house in five years. It is really hard isn’t it? That lingering presence is so real. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m sorry you understand this topic so well.

  3. This is very touching. I went back and read The Queen of Goodbyes. How lucky you are to have this wonderful memory. And how lucky you can go back to the home that reminds you of the memories. I’m sure it can seem sad at times but I think it is really a blessing to go back to safe, happy memories.

    1. H.U.G.S. Thanks so much for commenting and for reading my essay as well. I know you are right in that I am lucky to be able to go back to the ‘place of memories.’ Most of the time it isn’t sad anymore when I visit, but the driving away part is still so nostaligic and sad to me. Thanks for your kind words and also for sharing my story on your site.

  4. Beautiful, Nancy. It was very difficult to go back to my parents’ house after. Empty, is the perfect word. So much less life there. My dad finally moved after about 4 years and it turned out to be the best decision for him. He’s managed to create a new life and visiting him is a pleasure, but I can’t help think of what we left behind in that old house.

    1. Stacey, I know you understand all this emotion all too well. I’m glad the decision your dad made worked for him, I don’t see that ever happening with my dad. “I can’t help think of what we left behind in that old house,” that statement is quite profound, isn’t it, Stacey? You always get to take the memories with you, though so hopefully that helps. Thanks so much for commenting.

  5. My father died 20+ years before Mom did. Their home, next door to ours,was purchased by my younger brother, Mike. He and his wife use it for ‘get-aways’ during every summer. They have done a lot of remodeling, fixing, replacing, etc. My son has been part of all the renovations.
    Now they are going to have three large evergreens cut down in front of the house. It’s a good move, they are balsam and simply ‘shatter’ at a certain stage. So to save the house from any damage, they are going to be cut down soon. But every time I go over there, I ‘see’ my mother coming to the door, greeting me, ‘smell’ her fresh cookies in the oven, etc. etc. etc. I ‘see’ my dad coming from his huge garden with a bucket of vegetables, or from his garage/workshop covered in sawdust… It gets easier, but the memories are happy ones that I treasure.
    I love these memories

    1. Sharon, It’s really nice the home of your parents gets to stay in the family. You describe some really pleasant memories of both your mom and dad; freshly baked cookies and a bucket of home grown vegetables, it’s hard to top those! Keep on treasuring them. Thanks so much for commenting.

  6. Beautiful. I remember going home for Mom’s funeral and her gardening tennis shoes were still by the kitchen sink. Dad couldn’t bring himself to move them. I still see those shoes and she died almost 8 years ago.

    1. Jackie, I know what you mean about the shoes, my mom’s glasses remained on her dresser for quite some time. I had a hard time when her things were put away because it felt as if we were “putting her away” which of course we weren’t, but… Thanks so much for sharing a memory, Jackie.

  7. Eloquent, beautifully eloquent. I also read your excellent article in Grief Digest.

    Your writing has inspired me, reminded me, to count my good fortunes. My parents are both alive. While we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye (what child-parent relationship doesn’t have conflict?), I am grateful that they are alive and I am taking note of this time in my life, for I know it is too short-lived.

    Your mom sounds wonderful. It’s amazing that when we are in college venturing out on our own, we don’t think how mom feels seeing her baby off. Amazing how that happens.

    1. Beth, Thank you so much for your kind comments, I am indeed honored if you feel my writing has in any way inspired you. I’m happy you still have both of your parents in your life, that is indeed a blessing. I’m sure they are enjoying their precious grand daughter! Thanks for taking the extra time to read my GD article too and for commenting on that as well. You’re very sweet for doing so.

  8. Nancy, what a beautiful tribute to your Mom! I can just feel the heartache in the eloquent words you wrote. And I loved your article in Grief magazine.

    My Mom passed away three years before my Dad, so I was in the same situation as you (at least for 3 years). I can identify with you about seeing a blank space that your Mom should have been occupying. And goodbyes were definitely shorter with Dad. He was a very quiet and introverted soul, unlike my Mom.

    Goodbyes were long when my uncle and aunt came to visit our family when my brother and I were little. They said they were leaving at 11 pm, but they didn’t end up actually going out the door until 12:30. We were exhausted, but they had a beautiful friendship.

    I remember my Mom’s smile more than anything else. And my Dad’s acumen at trivia.

    Thank you for touching so many hearts with your poignant story of a special visit.

    Jan XX

    1. Jan, Thanks so much for commenting so kindly and also for sharing a bit about your parents. Sometimes I think men just “do” goodbyes differently. What a funny story about your aunt and uncle and their long goodbyes. They must have really enjoyed their visits to your house! Your mom’s smile, that is a lovely thing to remember and miss. My dad is pretty good with trivia too. Thanks for reading my GD article too, Jan.

  9. My parents have both been gone for some time. As a family, we often engaged in the Irish Goodbye. Trying to describe the IG is like trying to describe a hangover. You have to experience it to really understand it.

    The Irish Goodbye is mobile but unhurried. You start inside. You might leisurely say goodbye as you walk the visitor down the driveway but this just like the start of a fireworks display–a lone roman candle to be followed by a series of ever more impressive conversational volleys that will challenge the host and his guests to come up with just one more fantastic story.

    The visitor may get behind the wheel of his or her car. This does not mean actual parting is imminent. The driver lowers his window and the host stands on the driveway. The conversation continues.

    It is not a chore–it is like reading a good book–it’s so engaging you hate to see it end.

    The only thing that can draw an Irish Goodbye to a premature close is an act of God (rain, snow, etc.) or the call of nature.


    1. Katherine, What a great description you give! Maybe there is some Irish blood in my family! That would explain a few things. Thanks so much for sharing.

  10. I lost two of the most important women in my life within a year. My grandmother passed away at the age of 94. I think she was just tired.
    She left August 1998… We were just coming to terms with my grandmother being gone when my mother became ill.She suddenly became weak. lost her ability to walk. She lost an incredible amount of weight, She was hospitalized. At one point she fell into a semi-comatose condition my mom came out of it but things were never the same. She started developing dementia, could not recognize anyone but then she would have lucid moments too. At first the Dr.’s said she had Burkitts Lymphoma she was given palliative chemo. nothinh worked her condition became worse A month before she died the Dr suggested one final test. She was tested for AIDS/HIV . It came back positive My mother had full blown Aids. She contracted the virus in 1983 during surgery. Funny because during this time my step-dad received a registered letter from the hospital my mom had her surgery. Explaining further that they were now aware that the blood patients were given at this time was contaminated. There was a huge Government Inquiry thousands of Canadians were infected not just with AIDS but Hepatitis. There was a compensation pkg. Anyone who was infected after 1984 was given a significant amount to compensate,below 1984 sorry you lucked out. My mom was 1983… we appealed my step-father was devastated.My mother died July 12 1999. I miss her terribly not one thing in particular but everything. I miss them both..Then again I am glad my mother has not seen me sick. It would have broken her heart… Alli xx

    1. Alli, I am so glad you shared about these two special women in your life. That must have been a very traumatic year for you. How sad that your mother contracted AIDS by receiving contaminated blood during surgery. That is heart breaking. I’m sorry your family also missed that cut off date. I know what you mean about being glad your mother didn’t see you sick, I try to look at that way too. I think it would have been really hard for mine too. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Alli. I appreciate your willingness to share on another sometimes delicate topic.

  11. Thank you for sharing your precious memories Nancy. I have not yet read your Essay The Queen of Goodbyes.’ That is for another day.
    I do remember one of the last times I said goodbye to my Mum. She and Joe had used their walkers to walk with us out to the car park. They then used them as seats as they waved us goodbye. I have vivid memories of that visit. Mum died less than one month before Jeremy and I have never grieved for her. Jeremy’s passing and my cancer are the thoughts that stay with me constantly.
    Live, Love and Laugh♥

    1. Chez, Thank you for sharing a memory of yours. It’s sad, yet perfectly understandable why you never grieved for your mom. You were swallowed up by the other events that quickly followed her death. I do hope things are going ok for you as you cope with your latest challenges.

  12. Nancy, what a beautiful post – so glad I took the time to read it (sometimes one must make time when one doesn’t have time)!

    I could feel some of what you were feeling in your home, I think, and your discussion of “goodbye” took me back…

    My mom used to say, literally, “No goodbyes.” It was so difficult for her to take her leave or watch us take ours (as adults when we lived in different cities), that she would fight back tears (sometimes unsuccessfully) and say, “No goodbyes. We’ll see each other soon.”

    I find myself doing that as well, in my own way. I say “Hasta la vista” or “Hasta luego” sometimes.

    Haven’t been to Dad and Jude’s since Dad’s death, or rather a month after – and am afraid of it. Truly afraid. My stepmom has totally remodeled my dad’s office/guest room and all traces of him are gone. Even his old desk has been refinished.I’m avoiding going until I feel strong enough. She wants me to come and see it…. Anyway, I’m blathering.

    Thanks again for this lovely post, and xox,

    1. Lori, Thanks so much for taking time to read my blog. I really appreciate it considering all you are dealing with. Thanks for sharing some memories about your parents. It’s understandable why you are afraid of visiting your dad’s home. You are probably wise to wait until you are stronger and feel more ready. It will be difficult at first, especially with all the changes made. Thanks for your kind comments, Lori, and I send my best wishes your way.

  13. I miss how much Grandma adored me and did not try to hide this at all. She seemed to notice and comment on everything I did and even on the way I looked – and she never criticized. I don’t get that kind of pure, 100 percent positive (and honest!) feedback from anyone else I know.

    I also miss all the roadtrips I went on with my grandma and playing silly games in the car. We seemed to do well at getting each other to laugh.

    1. Lindsay, Thanks for sharing a couple of things you miss about your grandma. You’re right, she certainly did adore you!! I’m glad you have such nice memories.

    1. Lisa, Thanks for reading and commenting. My dad has a copy of the magazine, but I have not shared the post. Such things make him quite uncomfortable…

  14. Such a beautiful post about missing Mom, Nancy. I don’t think I’ll ever get over missing my mom. She had a way with goodbyes as well.

    On Monday, I leave to go to my Dad’s house to help pack up some of Mom’s things…he will be getting remarried in July and that brings up all sorts of conflicting emotions. His fiance is a wonderful woman, but it is strange to think of her being his wife. It will be an interesting journey.

    1. Ginny, Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for your kind words. We never stop missing them, that’s for sure. I imagine your trip to your dad’s house will be quite emotional for many reasons. I’m sure thinking of him with a new wife will feel strange even though you are also happy for him. Good luck with everything. I’ll be thinking of you. Let me know how it all goes for you.

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