I didn’t expect to feel this way.

Perhaps it’s because it’s been quite stressful recently.

Perhaps it’s because while I’ve worked for the same organisation for nearly twenty-eight years, I’ve changed teams and job roles three times in two (and twice in eight months). This has been largely by choice because the alternatives were worse. I haven’t worked with a team who are all in the same building or even the same town for the majority of the last eleven years. I’ve yet to get past acquaintanceship with the people in my new team. Three days a week, I work from home or sit in a side office, usually on my own. Twice a week I rattle along in trains full of strangers to meet face to face maybe only one or two members of my team. On those days, I work in a large office in a huge building full of people, the majority of whom I don’t know and am never likely to know. Of the work friends I’ve built over my career, many are, like me, rushing from place to place all the time. It’s hard to meet up.

Perhaps it’s because I’m under the weather. Everything has been overwhelming for ages. I feel as if I’ve been stumbling through undergrowth, step by exhausting step, not sure where the path has gone. Now, despite the fact that it’s July, I have a chest cold and virus.

Or perhaps it’s because my children are growing up. They both sat public exams this year. My eldest is eighteen today. My youngest is less than two years behind. When my son leaves home for university in the autumn, my daughter will be starting sixth form. I have washed my last item of ink stained school uniform. Sixth formers don’t wear uniform. The children can see that adult life doesn’t live up to the hype but are eager for it anyway.

I feel lonely.

I don’t feel alone. I have a lovely husband who’s my best friend. My children, when we’re all disconnected from electronic devices, still hug and chatter. They’re great company. My oldest friends and my wonderful sister, who know me best, live some distance away. But I have fantastic local friends and my mother lives nearby. It’s not the loneliness I suffered at school, alienated by bullying, nor in the first year at university, too shy to talk to anyone. I know I’m not alone.

But I still feel lonely.

Eighteen years ago, my son, my longed-for, long-awaited child was put into my arms. I was so conscious of his dependence on me that although he slept, I couldn’t for fear he’d stop breathing. Now, his dependence on me is nebulous. He can take care of himself if he has to, he definitely has his own opinions and can and does make his own decisions. (Although, somehow it’s still me doing the laundry.) We’ve encouraged his independence always: given him space within boundaries. We’ve tried to prepare him for adulthood. He is a wonderful young man.

My daughter is following right on behind. She is my lovely, lovely girl. But last night, we were looking at possible universities for her. She is flexing her wings ready to fly.

When my son leaves home, my daughter, no matter how much they fight and argue, will miss him. It’ll be just three of us for a while and then before we know it, just two of us.

Life with just my husband will certainly be more peaceful. I am looking forward to it. I am looking forward to welcoming the children when they come home, looking forward to visiting them when they have homes of their own, looking forward to watching them build their own lives and traditions.

But what will my role be? Where perhaps someone else would feel their employment defined them and would be lost without its focus, I don’t think I have ever felt that way. I have my career, but truth to be told, I think the real me is writer, companion and the mother.

I never expected to feel lost when the nest started to empty but I do. I thought we had helped them mature year by year until they were ready to leave and we were ready to let them go. And we are ready. We are. And yet…

We never thought we’d have a child and then, eventually, my son came along. We thought we’d perhaps never have another, but my daughter had other ideas. I remember that after she was born and she was no longer part of me, although I could hold her in my arms, I missed the company of her in my womb. I felt lonely for something that was gone, even though it was replaced by something better. My role to protect and grow a child under my heart was over. I had to learn something new.

So perhaps it’s not loneliness exactly.

There is a word in Welsh ‘hiraeth’ which has no direct English translation. In Cornish, it is ‘hireth’ and in Breton, it is ‘hiraezh’. Welsh, Cornish and Breton are derived from the same ancient British language. The closest English explanation is an intense longing for something lost (usually a home or a person) or for the memory of them, whether real or imagined. Apparently, Portuguese and Galician have a similar word: ‘saudade’. It’s been translated as ‘missingness’.

So I don’t know exactly why I feel the way I do at the moment. Perhaps it’s the weather, perhaps it’s the virus I’m enduring, perhaps it’s work, perhaps it’s my age, but I think, in truth, it’s probably because I feel ‘hiraeth’ for the children who are now young adults and who will soon be leaving home.

One of my friends, whose daughter is the same age as mine, recently said that she felt adrift. And I thought ‘yes, that’s it exactly.’

I too feel adrift, looking back at the fading lands of their receding childhood, wondering where the breeze will take me next.

lonely 2

Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

9 thoughts on “Missingness

  1. Yes. Adrift. But they do float around in your heart for the rest of your life. At least that is how it is with me and my boys. Ty said to me one time, “But mom, I’ll be so far from home.” I said, “I know, but my heart knows how to love over even the longest distances.” Your heart knows how to do that too. <3

  2. My daughter starts work-based learning tomorrow and only has one more year of uniformed school left… My son goes into sixth form in September. I hate ironing their uniforms, but I think part of me will miss it too… :/ Beautiful writing, as always, Paula xx

  3. Yes, the Portuguese live by the word “saudade” a longing (both happy and sad) for something that it’s no more, that it’s gone or not readily available . For what it’s worth you’re not alone in feeling that way. I think maybe part of growing older (and I’m a bit older than you–my oldest is turning 30 this year) is to feel that sense of nostalgia, not necessarily hating what you have now but loving and missing what you had then nevertheless. The realization that there’s no going back and that the road is getting closer to the end. I hope you feel better, both physically and emotionally. I wish I had some good advice but I’m often on the same boat 🙂 I do yoga and write a lot. My therapy and my way of escaping reality for a while. It keeps me sane, lol.

    1. Thanks. I meant to tag you re ‘saudade’ and check I’d got the right idea. You’re right. I’m not sorry they’ve grown up and if I’m honest with myself, it was exhausting when they were little and I enjoy their company so much now. It’s just that it seems like I’ve gone from wondering where we’ll fit everything in the house to empty rooms. Just a bit weird. I find writing a release and to be honest, this was. I wanted to write something light hearted and silly but my brain isn’t working very well, so I just started writing about adult loneliness and then I realised what was really wrong and wrote that down instead. Being physically unwell (I’m usually very fit) doesn’t help and is making writing hard because my head hurts! Am hoping it’ll go soon.

      1. No fun when you don’t feel well. I’ve been struggling with small irritating issues that put such large damper in my everyday life. The good news is, and like the old saying goes, this too will pass 🙂 I hope you feel better and yes, writing is such amazing therapy for the soul.

  4. Well expressed. A difficult to capture emotion. I think cianalas is the Scottish Gaelic, although there may be other words; I’m no scholar.

    Yes, you are writer and mum and a host of other descriptions. We are all different things to different people at different times in our lives. Always there is change and longing, but perhaps at this juncture more than any other….

    Enjoy perfecting who you are and never be defined by labels. I’ve never defined myself by what job I do. For some people that is who they are, rather than what they do.

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