One Mother's Journey Through Empty Nest GriefFeb 19, 2023
Raising kids is hard. Raising kids as a single mom is harder. But no one prepared me for just how hard it would be for my kids to grow up. It hit me so hard, in fact, that I considered what it would be like to no longer breathe. Breathing had lost its meaning anyway.
So today I am sharing my story through grief so that other women might not feel as ill-prepared or alone like I did. My message is for all mothers, not just for those wondering how to heal from empty nest depression.
I have two beautiful daughters. My entire life revolved around them and giving them the best life I could. I moved to a bigger town with more opportunities. I worked three jobs to pay for expensive activities, name-brand clothes, and meals out. I took them on vacations. I said yes…a lot.
They were and still are my best friends and pieces of my heart out walking around without protection. Soft shell crabs that the world told to leave the nest before I was ready.
The problem is not that they are both in their 20s and exploring their independence. It’s not that they moved out and are building their own lives. That I expected. I am proud of them, their levels of independence and autonomy, and I still see them as they are each just one hour away.
The problem is that they are no longer little, and it seemed to come so fast that I wasn't ready. I did not see the finality of the last moment of childhood in either of them. I missed it. Why???
I was not present.
I was distracted, in my own world, trying to “be” a specific type of mom, girlfriend, wife, employee, or person, instead of the deep self-love, and self-acceptance required to be fully present as myself.
And as I lay awake at night, wondering if I should text since I hadn’t heard from one or both, wondering if either is on the road during a snow or ice storm, wondering if they are hungry or lonely or sad…
I quietly and slowly started to see through the cracks of the anxiety to the REAL cause of my unease. With every single thought of missing them, came two to three thoughts of regret.
Regret for the things I did wrong. Regret for the mistakes I made. But mostly for the things I missed because I was nearly always thinking about their future, and how to make it better, instead of being proud of where they were and who they were in that moment.
Could it be that I was so achievement-driven myself, that I had projected that onto them? Sure, but if I would have stopped there I would have stayed in worry mode, thinking it was the unsafe world that was the problem. But I went deeper and found that under the anxiety was sadness, under the sadness was regret, and under the regret was grief. The deep kind of grief that doesn't feel like it has an exit door. When I began to allow myself the stillness needed to grieve them not being little anymore, I uncovered my own mother’s grief, and her mother's, and hers.
And the collective grief of all women came at once like a tornado with no one sounding the alarm, and I got pulled under the rubble.
Weeks went by like when Edward left Bella. I barely moved from one place, barely showered, barely slept. It felt like the world was moving around me, instead of me moving through it. Everything was gray. My children were all that had been coloring it and they were not here.
I was not just mourning them, but a season of my life where they loved me in a way all women want to be loved. They NEEDED me...Unconditionally.
The days melted into weeks and I felt the throngs of depression for the very first time in my 47 years. A month went by without a single thought that was positive or hopeful. (Yes, even coaches and healers can have seasons of challenge. If we don't it's a sign we are not growing and expanding, but have become stagnant.) I tried to stay in neutral. I tried to smile and move my body. I tried to focus on the good. None of my usual self-coaching/healing techniques were working.
But grief will not heal if you avoid it. Working 60-70 hours a week, endlessly cleaning my house, and staying focused on helping women in my coaching business was largely my ego’s way of preventing me from feeling.
We cannot heal what we are not willing to feel.
As I journeyed through my feelings, and the tears started to flow, I got scared and pulled back a few times. Then our finished basement flooded for the fifth time. Water equals emotions, so I took it as a sign that stuffing doesn't equal processing. It wanted to be seen.
What I noticed as I sat and felt my pain, was that it was hard, but not as hard as avoiding it had been.
As I began to walk through the shadows of grief, and loss, what I found under all the doubt, fear, and anxiety was a love so deep, vast, and wide that it scared me more than loss. I realized it was this deep river of love I was avoiding feeling, for fear of its magnitude crushing me.
Not "me" my true self, but “me” my ego.
Love can be as painful as loss and grief, but only if it’s resisted and not allowed to be fully felt or expressed.
I now realize that my vibration had fallen so low because I did not have my children to pour my love into. They were the reason I managed my heart and energy so well. The lower my vibration got, the more in touch I was with the collective pain of all women. The less I managed my energy, the lower it got.
I needed to relearn how to tap into and flow that love to myself. I had 23 years of experience caretaking my kids but was still a novice at caretaking my own inner child.
I am grateful that I had a SisterCoach to guide me and walk beside me through these shadows. Without her, I would undoubtedly still believe I was alone, in the darkness, instead of on the other side of it. She helped me move through it. Faster than any woman can do alone.
She also helped me tap into an underlying addiction to guilt, but that is for a different day.
Now, I can guide women through their own dark night of the soul with more empathy and compassion, having been through one myself. The illusion we are alone is fading. Media keeps women separated, but I am part of a movement that supports us each thriving, balancing action with feeling, doing with being, and loving ourselves as we already are
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi! I'm Jamie Dooley. I'm a multi-passionate creator and thought leader in two realms that are important to me; oral health integration, and coaching & healing for women. I vulnerably share my own imperfect journey within, to inspire women to begin theirs.