“Good” Grief: New Changes and New Chapters

“Good” Grief: New Changes and New Chapters

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A Solo Mom ponders her empty nest

My children have “flown the nest.” One completely. One technically but still physically sleeps at home. We bump into each other when he gets home from work or catch a snippet of conversation in the comings and goings of his young adultness. There are days as a Solo Mom in which I feel very, very invisible. The silence is deafening. Although I know they are both doing what is good and normal and expected and hoped for, the solitary life I lead now doesn’t fit what I thought it would be like. Can you relate?

I’m happy. And I’m sad. Grief is like that. It lives next door to joy. It’s house offers contrast. Without it, joy isn’t quite as joyful and life is much more “beige.” Grief doesn’t just show up in the bad times, ringing the doorbell to barge in once you’ve opened your joy house front door. Being obvious and clumsy, yet sort of expected. After all, there’s been a tragedy or death. We know we have to entertain it.

It’s that sneaky visit in the best times, too, creeping around to the back door. That unexpected rap that makes you jump and skips your heartbeat. Who in the world would be knocking on that door? No one uses that door. I wasn’t expecting anyone. And we weren’t “expecting” grief to show up. No one died. And yet, in it comes to sit in the kitchen with us while we drink our coffee. Together.

We’ve done our jobs, right? Isn’t this the whole point of parenthood? To downsize ourselves? To “promote” our children to their own life CEO and then “retire?” We knew it was coming. We knew it was inevitable. We wanted it to arrive (on some days more than others). We wanted them to grow into adults. But still, we’re sad. And we’re happy.

I pictured this new chapter thinking I’d be remarried or at least in a relationship. Then I’d be in sync with my couple friends. I’d identify with the ads for retirement and travel showing the satisfied child-rearing survivor couples. They are living their parental retirement doing whatever they want, whenever they want. Together. Making up for all the years they put the needs of their kids first. Celebrating their couple survival and well-done job. Together. Dinners out and weekends away now that it’s only the two of them. But it’s only the one of me. So I’m writing this new chapter. Alone.

Solo Moms are, well, solo.

It’s hard and lonely and free and wonderful. Who has our power now? What are we learning now? Where do we fit in now? When is “now?” How will we figure out our new purpose?

Like many of us, I lived my life for my children. I have no regrets. Zero. Zip. Nada. Even when parts of me “went missing” during those years and I took last place. Quieting the performer in me. Compromising myself into near oblivion as I struggled with my marriage. Even through the days of sickness. Or teething. Or test anxiety. Or heartache. Or wondering why their dad left and if he was ever coming back.

He didn’t.

Against stacked odds carrying huge grief, my children are strong. My children are resilient. My children are warriors. My children are broken. We all are. But they understand that about themselves and their fellow humans sooner (now) rather than later. They are a testament to carrying on in and through the worst of times. They are imperfect and real. And magnificent.

Hopefully, as solo parents, we’ve shown our kids how to keep going through hard times. Hopefully, we’ve shown them how to love all of themselves including their broken parts. Hopefully, we’ve shown them how to love other people and their broken parts, too. Hopefully, we’ve shown them the real us. We’ve “walked the walk” instead of just “talked the talk.”

My heart swells when my children share their successes. My heart bursts when they tell me they love me. My heart melts when they thank me for pouring myself into their lives all these years. My heart hurts for all we’ve gone through to get here.

Someone told me “The days are long, but the years are short.” Truth. It goes lightning fast.

And this new chapter gets written. This joy house where I live is full of gratitude most days. And sometimes there’s a knock on the back door.

“Come on in. I’ve been expecting you. . . .”

A certified professional life coach and professional singer, Nancy Jo Nelson lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Her nest is emptying, as her daughter, Jillian, lives in the city and attends North Park University. Her son, Sam, still lives at home, along with Winnie the Wonder Mutt and Bolt the Mighty Chihuahua. Her first book, Lessons from the Ledge, is available on Amazon.

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