Empty Nesting Season: Letting Go a Little at a Time


They say things come in threes.

My son left for college again two weeks ago.

He was home two days between his summer job and college. No need for us to drive him this year. He was taking his Jeep. "There will be guys to help."

He of course had packed his car when he left his job. Guitars. Golf clubs. Clothes pretty much thrown in wherever they would fit. Not exactly as neatly packed as his father would have done it but it worked.

I had made one contribution to his return. I had sewed on a button. This is a major feat since my 10th grade teacher, Mrs. Mitosinka, only gave me a B in home economics if I promised never to sew again. But my son asked me to sew on a button, so I sewed on a button.

Pretty darn good job if I do say so myself.

Tight hugs goodbye. We had had a fantastic two days.

Tears as he drove away. That heavy dull feeling crept into my soul. Just an ache.

I had forgotten the next day was the beginning of the school year in Fayetteville. Much to my dismay at first, and then my delight, I was stuck in the long line of cars in front of an elementary school. Marching along the street were a colorful parade of entire families. All to celebrate going back to school. Dads carrying tousled toddlers on their shoulders. Moms pushing baby carriages. Younger kids clasping the hands of their older brothers and sisters, dressed in not-a-spot-on-'em outfits. Brightly-colored backpacks tightly fit onto their little bodies. Some smiling. Some staring down at their feet, perhaps overwhelmed. What looked like the occasional fifth grader. Far too mature for all of this -- not wanting to walk too close to the parent who was three feet behind him.

It was wonderful.

What a difference a few years make.

But not really.

Parents. Loving their kids. Watching them grow. Change. Transition.

Letting go.

Later the same morning, I got an email from a friend who had just gotten home from taking her only child to college. She had known the feelings would come.

Dealing with them was overwhelming.

It hurt my own heart to hear the rawness of her pain. Beginning to accept those first hours of an emptier, quieter house.

I wrote her about my own sobbing fit the day we got back from taking Rob to Vanderbilt that first year. I tried to normalize and describe what the next few days and weeks might feel like.

Like living in a world that is familiar and totally unfamiliar all at the same time.

That time was painful.

My grandparents had a gorgeous old grandfather clock. I used to love to listen to and anticipate its deep resonant sound.

Tick... Tock... Tick... Tock...

That inevitable, tangible reflection of time passing. Yet the comfort of knowing the regularity of the ticks themselves.

When I looked at those parents and children, I heard the anguish in my friend's heart. The joy and pride of one moment. The emptiness and confusion of another. My own tears as I watched my son drive away.

I remember that time will keep passing. That feelings change. They constantly evolve.

There will be other joys. Other smiles. Sorrows and contentments.

I find comfort in that thought.

I have watched so many people grieve. I know that even the deepest grief can abate. The human spirit heals.

Tick.... Tock.

You can read more from Dr. Margaret on her website. (http://drmargaretrutherford.com.)

Footsteps image courtesy Unsplash and can be found here.