Our Emptier Nest
I knew my nest was going to be empty this month. I just didn’t know it was going to be this empty.
We spent a week at the beach with our extended family as we do each summer. We had a great time, enjoying the sand and each other’s company with a little tennis thrown in for good measure. At the end of the week, my husband and I drove our son to the Destin airport for his flight to LA then headed home to the Atlanta ‘Burbs for some “alone time.” We had spent the week discussing ideas of things we could do together while our son was away – things like taking a class, hiking, and doing the Sunday crossword puzzle. We were doing everything we could to prepare ourselves for the quietness of being in our house with no kids.
For those of you who have been at this Junior Tennis Thing a while, you know that weekends at home are a luxury that we tennis parents don’t get very often. Whether it’s a local Level 4 tournament or the National Clays, junior tennis regularly controls how we spend our time. Since I’ve always been the primary Tennis Parent in our family, by default my husband has spent many weekends alone either working or catching up on things around the house. Over the past 26 or so years that we’ve been parents, we haven’t had very many weekends at home together just the two of us. This month, we expected to get a nice taste of what that feels like.
So, yes, when we got home from the beach, our house felt quiet. Our dog, Domino, was still at our friend’s house where she had spent the past week. She was due back home the next day, giving us a little time to unpack and settle in. The silence was nice, especially after having spent the past 8 days in a house with 11 people, Wimbledon and XBox providing a constant stream of background noise.
Late Sunday afternoon, Domino came home. Some time Sunday night, at age 14 1/2, she passed away in her sleep. And just like that, our Empty Nest got even emptier.
We got Domino as a 9-week-old puppy when our kids were ages 4, 9, and almost 12. My son has literally grown up with her. When his big sisters went away to college then moved into their own apartments, my son still had his dog to play with, snuggle with, and share his innermost thoughts with. Whenever he was home, Domino was by his side. But, whenever he wasn’t, she was my constant companion, following me from room to room and plopping herself down right next to my feet as I worked.
While the top tennis pros may have the luxury of traveling with their furry companions (Andy Murray’s dog, Maggie May, even has her own Twitter account!), my son spent many weekends away from Domino over the years, always returning home to see her wagging stump and happy face greet him at the door. When he comes home this time, though, things will be different. And he knows it.
Domino was 101 in dog years. Even though she was in pretty good health, I knew it was likely that her life was nearing its end, and I had been torn for quite a while about whether it would be “better” if she died before my son left for college or if it happened while he was already away. I spoke with our vet about it, trying to make sure I was prepared for whatever was in front of us. Dr. Webster had cared for Domino since we first got her, and she knew how close my son was to his dog. “It’s never easy,” she told me. “The good thing is that Domino knows she is loved.”
Calling our son and daughters to tell them that Domino had died was one of the worst parenting experiences my husband and I have had to face. We knew they would each take it pretty hard but that it would be toughest on our son. We were right. He felt so guilty that he wasn’t home with her on her last night. We tried our best to assure him that she was at peace and that she knew her place in his heart. Still, his 18 year old heart was broken.
Once again, I owe a debt of gratitude to tennis. My son’s SoCal training and tournament play are keeping his mind and body very busy, ensuring he is plenty tired when it is time for sleep. He confessed to my husband that he feels a little guilty about being so distracted from the grieving process by his tennis, but my husband reassured him that it’s exactly what Domino would want. After all, playing catch with a tennis ball was one of her favorite pastimes.
This Empty Nest test-run has turned into something significantly more permanent with the loss of our dog. And though we are literally spread out all over the globe right now (my oldest daughter is traveling throughout Europe and Africa for 8 weeks), we are keeping each other close via iMessage and Facetime, sharing memories, videos, and photos of our sweet Domino. I like to believe she’s wagging her little stump of a tail right this very minute as she chases tennis balls through the clouds.