Creating room—the conundrum of the empty nest

The long Christmas break is over and the letdown is leaving me a bit melancholy. The stretching of the heart that comes with the empty nest made full, and then made empty again, hurts.

Both of our adult children were home for the holidays. Our daughter spent both Christmas Eve and morning with us despite the fact that she also needed to see her fiancé’s family (she got engaged in November). Our son spent the week with us, having come up from New York.

Each time they come it’s an adjustment, requiring me to make room, not just in my house, but in my heart. Of course I do it without hesitation, but it is still an adjustment. It took me ten years to get to where I enjoy the empty nest.

The room is made and is filled only to be emptied again; it continues to surprise me how much it still hurts when they go away. Eventually this room fades into the background, waiting for the next time it will be needed. Slowly the new life I began when they left the nest filters back in and it soothes my heart.

Robert S. Donovan empty nest,Flickr Creative Commons
Robert S. Donovan empty nest,Flickr Creative Commons

This has been the conundrum for me with regards to the empty nest, this making room. I find it requires a heart that is vulnerable, supple and open. It requires a bit of courage, even for the creation of the smallest of rooms.

I distinctly remember the day I created that first room. All of a sudden the barriers came down and I announced to my husband that I was ready to have children. That moment came after several years of chasing a dream of being a professional musician, an all-consuming passion. I soon found out that motherhood is equally all-consuming; something had to give. I sold off my recording equipment, put the guitar away and immersed myself in my babies. It was not a hard choice. Love facilitates room-building

Gareth Saunders Bedroom in the sunshine, Flickr Creative Commons
Gareth Saunders Bedroom in the sunshine, Flickr Creative Commons

After five years the desire to write and record songs returned and it became a painful tug of war. Creative work requires large blocks of quiet time and as any mother knows, that time is non-existent, especially if you also work outside of the home. There were plenty of moments of guilt and regret and before I knew it, my children were grown.

So many moments of great joy and pride. Moments of heartache and sorrow. My heart was exercised and stretched in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Would I do it all again in the same way? Probably. Do I miss those childhood years? Very much so. Am I haunted by some leftover regrets? Sometimes. But it’s nice to have found a resting place in this empty nest.

In the meantime, I can enjoy the companionship of my grown children. Watching their burgeoning careers, enjoying pictures of the new apartment, marveling as they learn how to cook and make a home, meeting the significant others and reveling in the engagement and planning for the wedding all make for a rich post-childhood life. We share dreams and hopes for the future. The blossoming of my children into well-adjusted adults is an enormous blessing. As the song goes from The Sound of Music, somewhere along the way, “I must have done something good.”

Sara Björk The heart, Flickr Creative Commons
Sara Björk The heart, Flickr Creative Commons

So, I will continue to make room. The stretching will continue to hurt but it makes for a strong muscle. And while waiting for the grandchildren, I will hug and kiss my cats in anticipation.

Advertisements

Detachment: a “dirty word” that promises freedom

What feelings come up when you read the following two words:

  • Obedience
  • Detachment

Are your feelings positive or negative?

Are these words to be avoided at all costs or embraced?

Do these words hinder your freedom or enhance it?

In a later post I will deal with obedience, one of the most freeing words in the entire English language.

Today I will deal with detachment because I finally found out what it means.

Detachment can strike fear into the hearts of those pursuing an authentic spiritual life. It means walking away and letting go.

What do I have to give up?

Will I have to watch less TV, skip that beer or ice cream, put aside dreams of a tropical winter get-away in order to instead travel to snowbound Buffalo to visit elderly parents?

Will I have to give up something, or someone I dearly love?

What will I have to sacrifice?

Detachment in part means sacrifice and both words have a negative connotation in this age of you-can-have-it-all.

And there’s more to sacrifice than giving up time, money and material items. There are feelings inside of us that need to be sacrificed too.

That sacrifice is known as self-control.

Thud. Another word that stirs up a negative connotations.

In this age of exposing ourselves on Facebook and Twitter, self-control has fallen by the wayside.

When we feel bad, we show it. Why hide it? We not only show it, we indulge in it. We feel entitled to wallow in it. Hell, we feel like crap so why not just let it take over?

At some point you long to escape. Escape, as you know, comes about in many unhealthy, even deadly forms. Just ask Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith.

Oh that’s right. We can’t.

What does all this have to do with detachment? Here’s how.

And I only just learned this in the last few days.

On Saturday we said goodbye to our 26 year-old son. He is moving from his place near our home in central MA to Brooklyn, NY to explore new options in his life. It’s only four hours away but it might as well be on the other side of this planet to this mother’s heart.

I urged him to go.

Heck, I was the main cheerleader. And I was bound and determined not to lose it in front of him.

So just before the big goodbye, I stole away to the bathroom in his house and begged God to help me put a lid on my emotions.

The response was an impulse to pray the Hail Mary.

With that first of many Hail Mary’s I recalled that the Mother of Jesus had to endure such a goodbye too. She would understand and she would listen to me.

I then rifled through my pocketbook and found my rosary ring. I put it in my pocket and fingered it, continuing to pray.

And when it came time to say goodbye, I only cried a little.

We exchanged warm hugs and a few tears flowed but I held it together.

I realized at that moment that asking God to intervene, He stepped in between my son and myself, providing that little bit of detachment that allowed me to keep a lid on my emotions.

Later on in the privacy of my kitchen, I had my cry.

Detachment saved me from embarrassment, not only for myself, but for my son and everyone else that was there when we exchanged goodbyes.

from http://www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/topics_blackholes_blackholes.html

And now I am working on building on that detachment.

The pain of saying goodbye is not unlike grief and it can become a black hole, sucking you in and smothering the life out of you.

The natural inclination is to go towards that black hole.

The smart thing to do is to step back.

I work up this morning filled with pain over the goodbye. But I washed up, went to Sunday mass, did the food shopping and spent the day with my husband.

I clung to God and made a deliberate effort to tell that black hole I wasn’t going to be sucked in.

It wasn’t easy.

A lot of the time I just wanted to lay down on my bed and go to sleep.

The lesson of yesterday’s goodbye and the taste of freedom from that small bit of detachment gave me the impetus to keep pursuing it.

I sacrificed the urge to give in to the pain.

Using self-control, I deliberately turned away from pain of the past and fixed my gaze upon the future.

Little things like a medium Dunkin’ Donuts mocha ice coffee helped in the cause.

God teaches us detachment for a reason.

He wants to set us free. I feel like I have discovered a most precious secret.

And so I bid my son a bittersweet farewell, knowing it’s for the best and wishing him many blessings in his journey.

I have already found mine.

Click to Tweet & Share: Saying goodbye to our son hurt but taught me something new: turning to God, I learned to walk away & not lose it. http://wp.me/p2D9hg-8s

em space

Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog andreceive your free coloring book (and more).

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion