My Heartbreaking Journey With An Empty Nest

Just last week, I said goodbye to my 18-year-old daughter. After 6 years of going to camp with our church every summer for a week, she was now going to be a camp counselor for that same camp she attended as a camper. She will be gone for 2 months. I realize this is not forever, but I know that it is just the beginning of the end

My Heartbreaking Journey With An Empty Nest

I have never been away from my daughter, Emily for longer than a week. So needless to say, I am having a tough time with my empty nest

You know you hear of an empty nest, but you never really think it is that big of a deal until it happens to you. Empty nest syndrome is a real thing. According to the Psychology Today, it is defined below.

Empty nest syndrome refers to feelings of depression, sadness, and, or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes.
Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, but rather describes a transition period in which many people experience feelings of loneliness or loss. While many parents encourage their children to become independent adults, the experience of sending children off into the world can be a painful one. {Psychology Today}

Little did I know how painful it would really be. In a column titled Saying Goodbye to My Child, The Youngster, published in the Washington Post, writer Michael Gerson wrote that dropping his son off at college was the worst thing that time had done to him

"That moment at the dorm is implied at the kindergarten door, at the gates of summer camp, at every ritual of parting and independence. But it comes as surprising as a thief, taking what you value most."
"But with due respect to my son’s feelings, I have the worse of it. I know something he doesn’t — not quite a secret, but incomprehensible to the young. He is experiencing the adjustments that come with beginnings. His life is starting for real. I have begun the long letting go. Put another way: He has a wonderful future in which my part naturally diminishes. I have no possible future that is better without him close." {Michael Gerson}

The long letting go is the hardest part. I feel it might take me the rest of my life to do so. And much like Michael Gerson expressed, I feel like I have no possible future that is better without her close

My Heartbreaking Journey With An Empty Nest

Emily's life is just beginning. Even after her recent college disappointment, Emily is always one to pick herself back up and move forward. She takes failure and learns from it. She uses it to propel herself into the next journey. If you are interested in how the college thing transpired, you can read my post How the Current Education and I Failed My Child. 

It hasn't even been a week yet, and I am wondering how I will make it through the summer without seeing her smiling face. I am lucky. I have a very unique bond with my daughter. She is one of the very best people I know. She makes me happy and brightens up my life with her laughter, kindness, and love. I have known that she was not mine to keep forever, but giving her back has been harder than I could have ever imagined. 

Yes, I miss her like all parents do when their kids leave the nest. But I also miss her from my very core. I guess, for me, I put a lot into the relationship. I never intended for us to be best friends.  Actually, I had planned NOT to be friends at all. I was the mom. She was the daughter. Honestly, I felt a smidge (well more than a smidge) judgemental about moms who thought of their daughters as their friends. Even my own mom. When I was younger, I wanted a mom. Not a friend. My mom didn't quite understand this. So I promised myself that I wouldn't put that kind of pressure on her or push the boundaries. Then I got divorced in 2014. Emily was in middle school. We were already very close. She seemed to be the only one that could reach me in my darkest moments. I tried not to rely on her emotionally, because again, I was the mom. Yet, I found myself letting her in. Letting her nurture and love me. 

Despite my resistance to connecting with her beyond my child, I have found myself feeling utterly enamored by her very existence. My daughter has always had a profound connection to something bigger than herself. It was like she came into the world knowing that she was here to do God's work. And she has and is continuing to do so. 

Emily has taught me so many valuable life lessons. She has taught me what unconditional love really looks like and feels like. Emily has taught me to laugh and to embrace the good in the world. She has inspired me to be a better person and a better parent. My daughter has supported my decisions that to others may have seemed like a giant leap into crazy. All the while she cheered me on.

Did I let her down as a mother? I hope not. I believe that in the early years I gave her a mom. But a sad mom who didn't think she was worthy of real love or happiness. I took care of her. I provided a family for her. I gave her a brother to love. I was very involved with her education. In fact, she came to school with me every day of her life until high school. (In middle school she volunteered in my classroom before school every day.) So I think I loved her like a mom. I know I tried to protect her from my sadness and from the cruelty of life. Sometimes I did, and sometimes I failed. 

After our lives fell apart, I showed her how to pick yourself back up and move forward. But she also taught me how to do that. She also motivated me to do and be better. So we learned from one another. And because I learned to take risks and trust faith, she too did the same. I hope that I gave her space to figure out who she is and what she wants out of life. I don't know if I would have been able to do this before.

So fundamentally we have shaped one another, and our relationship morphed into something beyond mother and daughter. Emily is my Rory and I her Lorelai. Yes, there is some dysfunction in that, but there is also immense beauty

I'm not going to lie her leaving has left me feeling empty. I know this feeling is temporary. It comes and goes. Most of the time I feel happy for her. It's like I gave her back to the One who gave her to me in the first place. Knowing that she is filled and overflowing with joy, makes me feel at peace. 

Other times, I feel alone and sad. Things like your dearest friends taking you out to eat the night she left and driving down from North Carolina to cheer you up make it a little easier. Messages from my brother (who I love with all my heart) make all the difference, as well. 

Hope you’re doing okay. I guess that is the blessing and tragedy of life. To hold, protect, and nurture them, and then release

You guys seem to have such a tight bond that her evolution will always be yours and her journey will be your journey

So I guess I'll have to figure out how to watch The Bachelorette, Grey's Anatomy, and Gilmore Girls on Netflix without her. And I'll learn to pick myself up when I am down. I'll also find other sources of light and healing. And maybe I'll finally get my barn door painted and hung with all my spare time. Either way, I am still her mom, and she is still my sweet girl. Time nor distance will take that away.

Eighteen years went by too quickly. But, my daughter, those days have been the greatest wonder and privilege of my lifeAnd you will always be my sweet Emily and my very best friend. {Boundaries be damned.}

My Heartbreaking Journey With An Empty Nest

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