Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation

Empty Nest Syndrome, Part 2

I had narrowed my search to synagogues whose online descriptions contained code words that met my criteria: inclusion, equality of women, welcoming to gays and lesbians. As I scrutinized their monthly bulletins, I imagined myself sitting in a Torah class debating the text's contemporary relevance. Would that satisfy a current tug?

Maybe a Sabbath service at another house of worship? Could that  reignite a lapsed  faith?  Or, would a film or book group provide stimulation and challenge? A social justice program focused on immigration? How about that one?

The quest began to feel familiar, so I closed the cover of my laptop and moved to the couch for further investigation. It was there, sinking into the furniture’s comforting cushions, with my eyes shut, that my mind was free to flip the pages of the calendar backwards. Days, weeks, months, years reversed until I reached 1988. That's where my tour ended. I was likely, once again, suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome, albeit with very different losses.

I pin my first experience with the malady to the gloom I felt after my two daughters moved from living at home to their own apartments. But, that wasn't the excuse I used to cajole my husband. My addiction to my girls, and his feelings of being lower down my list of beloveds, were already causing frays in our 28-year marriage. So, I opted for a project I thought could bring us closer together, and perhaps fill the void left by my absent offspring.

“I want to join a synagogue,” I told my husband. We were living in our posh condominium off of Michigan Ave. and seated at the breakfast table with a view of the lake and other high rise buildings.

“Why now?” he asked as he divided the morning paper -- sports for him, local news for me.

“The High Holidays are coming up and I don’t want to feel left out,” I said. “I don’t want to feel dumb anymore.” This was believable, and it remained the excuse I gave to others who questioned my synagogue search and my timing.

“I’ll do the investigating and If I find one that feels comfortable, you can check it out,” I said.

We landed at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston. With its charismatic rabbi’s encouragement, I joined the Board of Directors, and embarked on a year-long study to have an adult Bat Mitzvah.

My plan worked. My husband joined the synagogue’s choir, accompanied me to Saturday morning services, and lifted his tenor voice in ritual song during the celebration of my late-to-the-game, coming-of-age ceremony.

Then, he left me for another woman.

Feeling like a third wheel, and possibly the object of pity by those who knew my story, I dropped my JRC membership. Occasionally, I’d return, and when I married Tommy, I brought him to a special service. But, my second husband had his own Lutheran lapses and while he encouraged my bond to my roots, had no interest to join me. So, I slowly let Judaism seep away until this current search.

While my first attack of Empty Nest Syndrome was brought on by my daughters’ departure, I realize now this second episode is due to a combination of losses. Consider: within a period of six months, Tommy and I had soothed our golden retriever as the dog took his last breath. Three months later, it was my husband who died after being diagnosed with throat cancer.

Then, I added to these losses by -- in what  seemed like a flash -- selling our house and moving from a neighborhood where both the dog and spouse and I lived happily for 13 years with model neighbors.

While my swift action was intended to lift depression and establish myself in a new, urban lifestyle -- and in many ways the relocation has accomplished this -- that blue feeling that accompanied my daughters’ leave-taking has begun to creep in.

How to fill the void? Will a particular synagogue help me find new faith and relieve the sadness? But, then I remember those old “third wheel” feelings that arose as a solo amid families and couples. Would I be at ease in pews of long-time members up-to-speed with one another and liturgy?

Perhaps I should instead postpone the search, slow down, and sit with the inevitable sorrow that has been my recent visitor.  Staying put; a new challenge for me.