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empty nest: loss, expectation & dissapointment

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

Midlife women have a lot of change to contend with. Midlife women with children have an additional loss to face, empty nest.

One of my kids went off to college on schedule. The other two followed different paths. One slowly slid out the door, made a new home with a significant job, and a significant other, and number three is still at home saving money and getting ready to start a new career.

Then covid brought number one home at my insistence; I didn't think isolating alone for months was a good idea for anyone. So I've had an almost empty nest and now a less empty nest.

Before the disaster that is our never-ending outbreak, I was beginning to get a feel for the next step in my empty nest journey. It was disconcerting to look around at the then sometimes quiet house and think, this is what waits around the corner? "Eeeeeeeee, it feels uncomfortable and unsettling, and I don't like it!"

Empty nest is a rite of passage that some can see coming, and others think, "I can't wait!". Until it sneaks up on the most independent among us, mugging us in a dark alley. It can happen once or many times, delivering differing degrees of dread. It creeps in like a fog, when the last child leaves, and again after a busy holiday or vacation when they all go once more. Those relationships that have been a part of your daily life for 20+ years are now walking away. It will never be the same. They can't understand. They are starting, we are experiencing an ending.

It's a shock to the psyche, the years when children leave to start their own lives. They don't need you anymore. We are supposed to raise our kids to be independent. Right. They wave goodbye as they go off into the world, and you are left standing there in the driveway or on the sidewalk, feeling more and more hollowed out with each moment that clunks by. Each step toward the empty home is an echo that falls dead at your feet.

The adjustment to an empty nest comes all at once and in stages, ripping your heart out quickly and slowly. It's not only that they are living elsewhere; the waning of your relevance is reflected back to you constantly, by the empty refrigerator, the lonely dog, the silent mornings, the missing— if brief conversations— and the phone that doesn't ring, that isn't them calling you.

Often, their departure is accompanied by a rebuke of your parenting, your values, and your value as a human being to them now. OUCH. It releases a cascade of memories, sacrifices, hopes, dreams, and never to be had again, sweet times of loving with your children—who once loved you back. It's mourning.

This must be the first step on the road to possible redemption offered by being a grandparent. At least I hope it is.

Wishing you the perspective of both Persephone and Demeter to work through these changes, namaste,

Dr. A.

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