So I have been an “empty nester” for exactly one week.
So far, it totally sucks.
I do not like it one bit. I am irritable and difficult–I admit this. Something feels off balance, and I am appalled by my own crankiness. After looking around the dinner table last night, I burst into tears and stormed out of the house to walk around the block, sobbing. Mostly because my husband “set” the table for the two of us (and a ridiculously large pot of spaghetti–I don’t know how to make just a little bit of anything!) by shoving the clutter (which included a bottle of Armor All, piles of junk mail, an ancient instamatic camera and dictionary (!)) to one side and putting plates down on the other. I looked at my children’s empty chairs, the place where their plates ought to have been piled with clutter. I may have said (or shouted) something like, “there’s supposed to be people here, not CRAP!”
(It must be noted that there were other factors causing said tears. One of which was my husband totally getting underfoot, in my way, as I tried to make dinner. Some empty nesters get a puppy—I have absolutely no need of one as my husband is generally behaving like one. But I digress.)
I saw this coming, I know. And it’s not like raising kids has been my only vocation for the past twenty years. I work full-time. I have interests and obligations beyond my home and children. But it’s still crazy hard.
Let’s add to all this, speaking of puppies, that my dog passed away a few weeks before my youngest went off to college. I know. It’s just a dog. A sweet dog, whom I treated like a third child, for more than a decade. If you don’t have a dog, just shut up. And no, I do not want a new puppy.
Oh, and I lost the full-time full-time freelance gig I’ve had for the last year and half. The very same week my son went to college. So make that, I did work full-time. Until quite recently.
Which leaves me with no dog, no children, no job and a clingy husband who is absolutely in denial about his clinginess. To call it a season of loss feels like understatement, and yet, ridiculous. I’m healthy. My kids are fine–thriving, in fact (they’re just 200o miles away). I’ve already found new freelance projects. I’m fine. I’m fine. Really. I have so much to be grateful for. Which just makes me feel guilty for feeling even mentioning that this is kind of hard.
As I said, the empty nest is no picnic. To me, it has been a time of tremendous loss and grief, coupled with an odd sense of freedom. I do not have to be anywhere for anyone, sign anything for anyone (except those tuition checks, of course). But the emptiness gives me the chills. And I really am trying to figure out what to do with that. This is a phase of parenting I was totally not prepared for.
My friend Tim Fall says the “empty nest” is a misnomer because the two of you are still there. Tell me about it. It seems like no matter where I go in this nest, there’s this person that I have been too busy to pay attention to for the last twenty years, who is now the only person to talk to, following me around. Tim says he and Liz are “spacious nesters, because we’re still here for crying out loud!“) but it doesn’t feel spacious to me, especially with this person (my husband) constantly in. my. space.
I turn to busy-ness, inventing new projects since I am unemployed (I re-did my website and self-published one of my out of print books this week, for starters). I run—I figure physical exertion might help me process the stress. (How many miles until I outrun the pain? I’ll let you know when I get there.) In the afternoons, I try to go shopping and realize, there is nothing in the store that I want. In the evening, I pour myself a glass of wine, sit on the couch, and try, quite unsuccessfully, to lose myself in a good book. I am unmoored, on a new journey, unsure of the way.
Are you an empty nester? I’d love to hear how you dealt with this particular leg of life’s journey.
Wow, Keri – that’s a lot coming at you all at one time! And there’s no such thing as ‘just’ a dog – what a huge loss! (We are weeks away from losing our own best friend for the past 13 years, so I’m a bit sensitive on this topic!) It sounds like your husband is really at odds with all the loss, too – hope you can reconnect in a way that totally revitalizes WHILE giving each other a bit of space to absorb all the changes!
Keri, I’m praying for you and Scott in all this.
You know, if I went through everything you’ve gone through recently – kids moving away, losing your wonderful dog, not having that great job any longer – I not only wouldn’t feel guilty about feeling cruddy over it all, I’d be none too quiet about how cruddy I felt to boot.
Thanks for the shout-out to my spacious nest philosophy, but I have to admit that spacious-nesting isn’t always easy. It’s not always constant either. Our oldest is home again as he takes more classes and preps for applying to a grad program.
It’s hard when you enjoy your kids’ company so much like we do, and you do as well. These are fun people to be around, and having them not around really stinks sometimes. So Liz and I are making plans to get together with our daughter in south Asia (she’s there for a year). It’ll only be about 8 days, but it will be a great time with her and her team of ministry co-workers. The 30 hours of travel time won’t be so hot, but the visit will be worth it, I’m sure.
Tim, thanks for stopping by. I just posted again, so that my readers won’t think I’ve drowned in despair. God is stirring up some new things in this season. Thanks for your kind comments. I agree–i really like my teenagers, which makes it hard to have them gone. But there is room at the table, which is what I”m writing about today.
[…] I’ve written about before, I am beginning a season of life labeled for its losses: the empty nest. Certainly, that […]
So far, I’m not dealing with it well at all. 3 major life milestones hit me at once..I turned 40, my mother died, and my only child flew the nest and went to college, all in the same year. Life as I knew it is gone. On top of all that, I developed some minor health issues of my own that while not life threatening, are serious enough to affect my daily life, at least somewhat. I just want to crawl under a rock at this point because life has literally caved in on me. I truly hope things begin to improve. And it would be nice if that improvement starter asap. I’ve had an empty nest for 8 months…and the last 8 months have totally sucked.
Ms, Thanks for your honest comments. Believe me, I get it. It’s so hard. I can tell you, it does get easier. Things will improve. You have so much to give–and now, in this season, you need to find someone or something else to give to. That might mean volunteering (I’ve definitely stepped that up in my own life). It might mean a hobby that you never had time for is now possible (I’ve done that as well). It might mean pursuing a dream that is yours alone (maybe going back to school or finding a new job?)
I know it feels dark. I get it. I lost a job and my dog died at the same time my youngest left for college. Huge milestones. But–loss creates space in our lives. We need to grieve the loss, then ask God what should fill the space. I hope you’ll read some of my recent posts to see how that worked for me. Each of us has our own unique journey but I hope you find encouragement and hope here.
[…] than two years ago, I wrote about becoming an empty nester. It was a very difficult transition, full of pain and grief and uncertainty. I wrote a raw and […]
[…] so empty. It took me a while to get over the shock, frankly. I wrote about how much an empty nest did not work for me, at all. But guests trickled through, joining us for meals or a weekend or a week-long conference. […]
I’m a new empty nester. Mom of triplets (two of which I navigated 12 yrs of intensive therapies for PDD-NOS) that I was with for 18.5 yrs and suddenly lost all three at once vs the staggered aged child families and all the emoted angst over each one. I’m not sure why but I haven’t felt a huge deluge of emotion like all the other parents report and write about. I keep being told that it is going to hit me hardest. That hasn’t happened. Is that wrong? Am I that stoic? Maybe it is my faith? I know they are in God’s hands. I also had a dream about my deceased father who passed away when the kids were just one month old. He was driving our family van as I took the kids to their colleges this last week (husband has had to work and unable) and he looked over at me and nodded. Like he was letting me know he’s watching over them too. THAT gets me every time I think about it and I had had a tumultuous relationship with him, though he was the one that taught me what I needed to know for independence growing up. I have confidence in that “vision” and knowledge too.
Now, I’m not sure what I’m to do next. I know I have to get back on track with my health but that isn’t going to be 24/7. My husband works very long and hard hours. He wants my weekends and nights free so I can see him and we have have the potential to do things and travel up to see the kids together. My former career generally requires those. My interest in the local library also requires the same availability…..my kids were always busy in their teen years so I am accustomed to being alone. This time I am just awaiting my husband’s return.
Maybe I am over thinking this because of all the warnings from the colleges, blogs, pages, etc that tell me otherwise?
I feel it is quite unfortunate you are unhappy. My children are grown as well. I cultivated other interests while my children were growing up. I suggest you find things you have always enjoyed and explore them. Rejoice as your children become more self-sufficient. It is good for them to feel you are proud of their accomplishments. It is good for you to see all the hard work has meant something.
I know this is an old post and I haven’t yet read your newer ones. But… I am also almost exactly in your shoes -dog included- 🙁 .
I think the thing about all of this is no one really ever talks about it or prepares people for it. You know we by nature are always looking forward. First kiss, first date, marriage, children, their sports, games, dances, graduation…..
Now their is really no more milestones to look forward to. Well except…
You spend 18+ years devoted to the physical and mental growth of these people and then they are just gone. Its so unnatural. And yes, to the previous poster I have “other” things in my life besides my children. And to be honest, I don’t think it is just the children leaving. I think its this phase of life period. ..
Its really unsettling. And I’m sorry if people don’t agree, but I really miss my children being here! And I miss the whole bustle of it all.
I really hope there is more light at the end of the tunnel than there is now.
Thanks for your comment and I hope you’ll visit again and read some of my more recent posts. Yes, the empty next is hard but now that I am a little further down the road I’m here to tell you it is not all bad. There is light and freedom, and a less-pressured relationship with your kids as they become adults. Mine are now 25 and 27, and live far away. But I can redirect my energies to my work, my hobbies, and even some volunteering that I can enjoy without feeling guilty for neglecting things at home! (For example, check out some of my posts about the refugee family I visit) Give yourself time, but look for people who might need your care and energy, now that you have some extra to give!