Respite For an Empty Nest

Carol Chester reflects on her son leaving home

In August 2018, during Older Student Registration, students Carol Chester and Gail Johnston, with guidance from Joanne Jaber Gauvin from the Urban Action Institute, initiated the Older Student Writing Project (OSWP). The goal of the project was to collect personal essays written by older students and to have them printed in a university publication. The purpose of the project was to highlight the work of older students, showing that they add to the diversity of the WSU community.


By Carol L. Chester


He comes to visit once a year during Christmas. He stays for a few days, then leaves, returning to his home thousands of miles away. Each time we see him, he has changed. His hair is either shorter or longer. He has grown a mustache or shaved one off. Each year, he seems a bit wiser, more mature. I begin to think we did a good job of raising him.

Our son left home to attend college ten years ago. I clearly recall the day. The car was packed with his belongings—clothes, eating utensils, snacks, a small refrigerator, and a guitar. He sat in the back seat, listening to music on his phone. I sat in front, staring through the window at buildings and trees along the Mass Pike. My husband complained about slow traffic. “Get out of the left lane,” he said, passing the car in front of us.

The trip to MIT took less than an hour. My husband parked the car in front of our son’s dorm. We helped him carry bags and boxes up the stairs to his room. Soon the car was empty. It was time to leave. My husband and I took turns hugging our son.

“Good-bye,” I said, choking back the tears. In an instant, he was gone, running off to the student center.

My husband started the car. “This is the saddest day of my life,” he said.

“It certainly is,” I said, my voice quivering.

Returning to our home in Worcester, I noticed how quiet the house seemed. No sound of guitar strums or drumbeats. No footsteps running up and down the stairs or chasing after our dog Zippy. The silence was a stark reminder of the emptiness I felt in my heart.

For weeks I mourned the loss of the boy who left home to become a man. Gazing through the kitchen window, I saw him pitching baseballs in the backyard, jumping off the deck into a pile of leaves, and sliding down the hill on fresh-fallen snow. Standing at the sink, I laughed at him spinning around on the kitchen floor, Zippy licking his face. Sitting at the dinner table with my husband, I heard our son talking about the intricacies of calculus and physics.

While our son was a student at MIT, we often met him for dinner at our favorite restaurants in Cambridge. Routinely, he came home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. After graduating from MIT, our son moved to California to begin a six-year PhD program at UCLA. Frequent visits were no longer possible, and regular contact was limited to phone calls, text messages, and emails.

Last year, our son graduated from UCLA. Currently, he works as a data scientist at a startup and lives in Los Angeles. We saw him recently when he came home for Christmas.

The holidays have passed. Our son has come and gone. Soon I will begin another semester as a student at Worcester State University, where I am enrolled in the Master of Arts in English program. Being a student in my sixties, I sometimes feel awkward on campus, thinking younger students may prefer having the campus to themselves.

Nevertheless, I like being around younger students. They make the learning process more valuable. During class discussions about reading assignments, younger students notice details from the reading I overlooked. During Blackboard discussions, they ask questions that make me think deeper about the stories and articles we analyze. During group projects, they show me how to work with Google Docs and other computer applications I have not used before.

Being a student at WSU has filled a void in my life—the void created by living in an empty nest. When I feel sad about our son living far away, I think about the young people I have met at WSU. Their enthusiasm for life fills my heart with joy and reminds me I am fortunate to study with the future leaders of our ever-changing world.


Carol Chester is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in English program at Worcester State University. Before retiring in December 2015, she worked as an administrative assistant at Ostrow Electric Co. in Worcester and as a reporter for Coulter Press, covering news in Shrewsbury, Northboro, and Westboro.

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