Loss and Musings from the Empty Nest
I have avoided it for three weeks now.
Every day, I walk out of my room in the morning and glance down the hallway. Both of my college kids are now graduated and on their own. Each time I think about them growing up, I have a mixture of emotions.
No more tuition due brings me joy.
No more late night calls from a Generation Z kid completely stressed out from homework, lack of sleep, and too many activities brings me relief.
Receiving their diplomas in the mail brings me tears of happiness and a ridiculous amount of proud mama feelings.
But the quiet house - the quiet, clean house - it catapults me into so many other feelings - and feelings I didn’t expect. I longed for an organized, clean, uncluttered house. You know, the kind where the baseboards aren’t scratched from skateboards in the house and the carpet doesn’t have nail polish dripped on it (teen years when mom wasn’t home). The kind of house where everyone picks up their laundry and puts their dishes in the dishwasher.
And now, I have that clean, orderly house.
But I don’t have the daily voices yelling between two floors at one another. I don’t have the laughter that occurs when they tease one another or rough house with the dog. I don’t have the college kid’s laundry plopped inside the door. I don’t have the numerous interruptions of impromptu conversations while trying to write in my home office.
And avoiding the kids’ rooms is a feeble effort to keep reality at bay just a little longer. The rooms are mostly empty, with the random sweatshirt in the drawer or memento on the shelf. The pictures of the Girl Scout camping trip, the sorority bid day, and the broken wrist from a successful skateboard trick. And while their rooms will always be their rooms, once they pay rent and live in their own apartments out of state, things will never be the same again.
I wasn’t ready for this.
It’s the ending of a chapter, and while the kids don’t think much about it because they are truly and wholeheartedly experiencing their new lives as an adventure, I grapple with the finality of this chapter, and what it means for us as parents who are faced with getting reacquainted with ourselves.
Loss can disguise itself as so many things. Even good changes bring with them loss and adjustment. Eustress - “good stress” - can look like a wedding, a move across the country for a better job, a graduation, or a promotion. Every change brings about a loss, some significant and some barely felt.
I spent some time yesterday cleaning, dusting baseboards, cleaning out junk drawers, and throwing away random items left in old purses and backpacks. While I felt the tears burn my eyes and catch painfully in my throat, I was overcome with love and pride for these amazing kids.
Part of a parent’s love is to raise them up to be responsible, self-sufficient adults. We know our job is mostly complete when they are launched, when they spread their own wings and take that metaphorical leap.
We hold our breath as parents, hoping they will catch the wind and fly, but they aren’t fretting.
They are all in. Adventure seekers. Lovers of life and learning. And they do it with an open heart and the confidence and curiosity I have hoped they would have.
So what does a mama with an empty nest do now? I’m sharing a few thoughts as I reflect on what’s needed to adjust to a loss.
Know that there is an adjustment to be made. Life will be different, and it will not feel the same again. Allow yourself the space, time, and thoughts to move through it in healthy ways.
Know that there will be difficult days. There will be tears. There will be non-motivated days. There will be pizza night instead of healthy cooking. Grant yourself the gift of grace and forgiveness when you are feeling the urge to be hard on yourself.
Work through the difficult days with actionable items that are helpful. Once I finally understood that I needed to want to help myself and move through this, I understood the power of taking action. Action is one of the best ways to improve our mindset. Decide what you need to do to feel better. This will be unique to each of us. Those of us who are around many people may need more time alone, and those of us who spend a lot of time alone may need to be around more people. Fall back on the basics of what we know is healthy for us: moving our body, spending time in nature, getting enough rest and hydration, watching our alcohol intake and fast food/processed food. I resist the idea of exercise until I go for a walk around a nearby lake, and then I am renewed and wonder why I resist it so much. Embracing the action mindset involves not overthinking the decision because thinking will talk you out of your healthy decisions. Don’t give it much thought; just go with the decision.
Be thankful for the autopilot setting. While I don’t necessarily love the feeling of being robotic, I am thankful that I can still take care of my business, my home, and my other relationships. It's a gift that later we reflect back on and say, “I don’t know how I did all of that while I was grieving.”
Reach out to trusted people in your circle. Yes, even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you have talked yourself into the idea that they are too busy. Sharing the emotional load right now can ease your sadness.
When you are ready, reacquaint yourself with who you are as a person who has more time to experience the world. What appeals to you now that you have more time? Travel? Reading novels? Volunteer work? A new hobby? All change requires this adjustment, and it’s OK if you don’t know quite yet. Do something new and different every once in a while. Be open to new opportunities and listen to your inner truth.
As much as I love a clean house, I would take the kids being home again over a clean house any day. But those wings we taught them to use? They will fly home often, and when they do, we love them well and enjoy those moments when we are all back in the nest again.
Wishing you peace as you adjust and become reacquainted with you.
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