Many years ago now, my mother said something to me that I'm only now remembering. It was after my father died in 1998 - probably a couple years later - and it was the day after a holiday, but I don't remember which. She said something along the lines of "It's never lonelier in the house than when everyone has been here." I think that puzzled me at the time but yesterday I realized that was exactly the way I was feeling.
I think we adjust to being alone for the most part. We become accustomed to the quiet, the silence of an empty house. We tend to leave the television or the radio on for company and welcome the mail man arriving with a package, but all in all its something we are used to. But then suddenly the house is full again. Its a holiday or some other special occasion and everyone is "home" again. Its a reminder of the happiest days of your life, when your family was all home and the house was alive with activity and craziness. You remember the best parts - not the difficult ones - and you feel more alive than you have in awhile because there is life in your house: laughter and noise and general activity. There are voices and there is love and its everywhere, from the spilled food on the floor to the humming of the dishwasher. Its what you remember, what you had for so long, and what is no longer your reality. And it makes you happy.
And then just as suddenly as all that activity and fun arrived, its gone. Everyone leaves. You pick up the crumbs on the floor, you unload the dishwasher, you brush off the kitchen table and put away the toys, and there you are. Alone. Again.
I love those moments when everyone is here and I wouldn't change them for the world. But they do remind me of the things I miss. I know it will pass, but it does make me a little melancholy for awhile. And yesterday, as I sat on my couch watching something or other on TV and smiling at the memory of something one of the little ones did or said, I suddenly remembered my mother. And I wished I could go back and stay with her a little bit longer, after everyone else had left, and keep her company for just a little more time. Funny how we don't realize these things until its too late.