Empty Nesting.... Again

author/source: Laurie O'Neil

Adios. Au revoir. Bon voyage. Ciao. Shalom.

My husband and I said goodbye (again) to our youngest child, Andrew, who is embarking on his dream job at Disney World. For all of you Star Wars fans out there, imagine “entering a galaxy far, far away” to work every day—namely, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. If being immersed in the interactive world of droids with denizens of the Star Wars universe scattered everywhere wasn’t enough, Andrew landed on the iconic vessel, Millennium Falcon—or “Star Tours on steroids” as George Lucas calls it—where he gets to hang out with the likes of Hondo Ohnaka and Chewbacca every day.

Andrew-O-Neil-Empty-NestersNeedless to say, the tears upon my departure last Wednesday were all mine…

As my leave-taking grew closer, I sensed a widening edge of disconnection emerge. The harder I tried to connect, the tighter he held onto his burgeoning independence. Rekindled visions of other goodbyes festered in my mind: leaving my tear-streaked eldest child in her first dorm room, my husband repeatedly asking if we should turn back; flying home from Washington, DC after delivering my fifteen-year-old middle daughter to a Youth Leadership Conference, petrified she wouldn’t be able to successfully navigate her solo return journey; sleep-walking late at night to the Ronald McDonald House in Providence, RI after leaving my beloved baby boy in the NICU where he was fighting for his life…

Empty-Nesters-Laurie-ONeilAt each of these cosmic junctures, these inescapable intersections of love and loss, I was forced to reckon with that very thin line between self and those I love, to redefine who I was in the intricate dance of letting go. Every time this dance occurred, I was faced with the choice of either diving in and tenderly tending to my “new normal”, or giving in to the irresistible desire to close off my heart and just “carry on.”

For me, the choice was non-negotiable. I inevitably chose to openheartedly create space for exploration, reflection, and connection to these timeless lessons. Leaning fully into both love and loss, I was repeatedly and vividly reminded that our time on this earth is sacred. That this life we are given is not a dress rehearsal. But how does one shoulder these agonizing touchstones?

Picking up my pen has always been my path to healing, my bridge to clarity. During my first pregnancy, I started a journal for my unborn child. Losing my father when I was eight-years-old left me constantly searching for any little “piece” of him. My unborn child would “know me” no matter what… Little did I know those journals would chronicle our lives for years to come and act as a salve as well as a sacrosanct testimony of my unwavering love for all of my children.

What I discovered was, mindfully unpacking my goodbyes—inviting my losses to illuminate and shape the way I go on living—was a powerfully potent tool that shined a transformative light into the inevitable darkness of loss. When we can recognize that grief is the “price” we pay for loving so deeply, it loses its power to undo us. After all, time spent cultivating connections with each other really is the essence of the joy in our lives…

So, on the morning I left my boy to embark on the next chapter of his life, I picked up my beloved pen:

Andrew-and-His-Mom-Laurie-ONeillDear Andrew, Your time has come! I can clearly see you’re so ready to launch your magical life at Disney. Every photo you post captures your happiness—the feeling that you have “come home.”

Know that “home” is always with you—it’s in your heart.

Remember to call. Remember to answer my texts. And remember how much I love you and how proud I am of you.

Love, Mom

As you can see, I couldn’t resist the annoying motherly reminder to keep in touch! Some things never change…

For those of you launching your own young adults this September, I found great comfort as well as some much-needed laughter in this article by Deborah J. Cohen, Ph.D., entitled, Dear Parents, It's Time to Let Them Fly the Nest.

And when you find yourself standing in your son or daughter’s empty room feeling totally gutted, may this fundamental truth offered by Deborah help power you through your grief— “You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone. But remember: I will miss you, too. And we will both be okay.”