We enjoy our empty nest, but it wasn’t all happy faces when the baby birdies flew. And it didn’t get easier with each one. I was surprised at the depth of my emotion, especially considering how hard we had worked to get them wherever they were going. If any one of them had come home, I would have sent them back! The timing was right all four times and we were excited for them. I found being supportive didn’t make their leaving any easier.
Moving day was fun and giggles until the drive home when realization settled in that my child wouldn’t be home in bed that night; they wouldn’t wake up at our house the next morning; I wouldn’t know what they were doing or if they were eating or sleeping. That’s when the loss hit me – like a brick wall. It hurt so much.
I want to emphasize even though it was right and I was happy about it, there was a loss to grieve. All loss needs to be worked through or the feelings get stuck in our emotion bank.
I missed them. I missed touching them, talking to them, hearing about their day, cleaning up after them…every little thing. It was too quiet after each one left. The atmosphere and dynamics changed and required adjustment. I don’t like change – I don’t even like to get a haircut! I like each one of them and missed experiencing them and knowing the little things. I love them and my heart felt ripped out without them near me. I needed each one of them and needed them to need me. These intense feelings did change and dissipate with time. We developed a new normal and I quit crying.
And now we love our empty nest. We love when they come and love when they go. Life goes on…
Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 (NIV)
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
One resource that can be helpful is the knowing 7 Stages of Grief so you can understand the emotions of loss. Though designed to work through the death of a loved one, recognizing and understanding these stages can help with any loss. You don’t necessarily go through the stages in order, but you may jump around and even repeat the stages.
7 Stages of Grief...
1. SHOCK & DENIAL-
You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.
2. PAIN & GUILT-
As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.
You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.
3. ANGER & BARGAINING-
Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.
You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?” You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair (“I will never drink again if you just bring him back”)
4. “DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS-
Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.
During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
5. THE UPWARD TURN-
As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.
6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-
As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.
7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-
During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.