I knew this was coming. Though sending my youngest daughter to college was always part of the plan, I chose to ignore it.
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“Mom, did you fill out those college forms?”
“What college forms? You’re not going to college.”
As usual, she did as she pleased.
Reality knocked me in the knees last week as I helped Marissa move into her dorm at Stanford University — 2,864 miles away from home in Orlando.
For temporary pain relief, I got invested in her dorm décor. In a final fit of mothering, I filled carts at Bed Bath & Beyond and Target with bed-bug proof mattress protectors, x-long twin sheets, durable towels and laundry soap.
On the plane home, reality hit: While I created her new nest, mine emptied.
The fact that I had done this once before, two years ago when my oldest went to college — 1,158 miles away — didn’t pull any force from the blow.
Both send offs felt like an amputation. Only last time, I still had one chick in the nest.
“The definition of grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern or behavior,” said Russell Friedman, co-author of “The Grief Recovery Handbook” and “Moving On,” and partner at the Grief Recovery Institute, in Sherman Oaks.
“Sheesh! I could be your poster child!” I said.
This man didn’t know my life, but if he did ….
“An empty nest is that and more,” he said. “When a child leaves home, all sorts of conflicting feelings come up.”
“No kidding,” I said. “I just walked into her old room and got a lump in my throat. At the grocery store, my eyes welled as I reached for the kind of milk she likes then realized I didn’t need to buy it.”
“The freedom from some of the chores and burdens of parenthood runs head-long into the absence of your children who are out creating their own lives and eventually their own homes.”
“It forces you to ask, ‘Who am I now?’”
“I didn’t know who I was before!”
He paused, and likely thought what I thought: Man do I have work to do.
Ironically, and here’s the good part, the antidote for the hollow feeling of an empty nest, experts say, is exactly what I always recommend: Remodel!
Only this time, the remodeling is of your heart, your head and, to a lesser degree, your home, said Friedman.
Marie Dubuque, a life coach in St. Louis and an empty nester as of last month, could relate to my sad state but she’s more together.
“When I get sad, I think, ‘What’s the alternative? That they stay home? I raised them for this, to go and become independent. We accomplished that.’”
Since dropping her son off at college, “Our home is becoming less about kids and more about being a sanctuary,” she said. “Instead of utter chaos a lot of the time, it has become a refuge.”
To adapt to the new family dynamic, she redecorated her loft, once a kid zone filled with video games. “When you have a teenage boy, you have electronics everywhere,” she said. She converted the space into a “relaxing retreat with an oriental feel,” including a small fountain.
“When I sit there and read, I think, ‘This is the beginning of my new life.’”
Friedman applauds that move, and says that’s the work of the empty nester.
“I can’t tell you how to create a space, or recreate a space, that represents you now,” he said, as yet another of my interviews turns into a therapy session. “That’s a solo effort, but that’s your new job.”
When kids leave home, here are some ways experts say empty nesters can adapt:
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.