“You’re an empty nester now. How do you like living alone?”
I’ve been asked this frequently since my youngest daughter moved out last month. Honestly? I don’t always like it. Some days, I absolutely hate it.
The word “nest” reminds me of being pregnant with my oldest daughter and moving into a new house 3 months before my due date. I spent those months lining cabinet shelves, folding her little onesies and tucking them into her dresser just so. My mom said I was “nesting.” Now my nest is not only empty, it had a gaping hole in it to begin with.
I didn’t ask to spend the last part of my life alone. Todd was supposed to be with me when our kids moved out. I’m not disappointed with my daughter for moving; after all, she moved out of her dorm and back home after Todd died to make sure I was okay, and it’s time for her to claim her independence. But, I didn’t choose this future.
Sure, I can do what I want when I want to: leave dishes in the sink until I feel like washing them, vacuum at midnight, monopolize the remote. Whoopee.
But, when I freak out over wildfires in Australia and bombings in Iran, I don’t have any one to talk me down. Nightmares? My dog licks my face. Hopes, goals, dreams? Write them down. Stomach viruses, fevers, doctor visits? Suck it up. Get your own Tylenol, Sue.
To an outsider, I look like I’m doing okay. I work 2 jobs, pay bills, get my oil changed regularly, pay a kid to cut my grass in the summer. I go to the high school football field to practice my disc drives. I work on my putts in the backyard. I write. I read. My dad calls me every day. I see my daughters every day. And, my youngest daughter did bring me 7Up when I was sick a few weeks ago. Yeah, I’m okay.
But okay isn’t fantastic.
Okay isn’t happy.
Social media likes to push the idea that the key to happiness is first being happy with yourself by yourself. I get it, and this advice might be valid if I was 19 or recently divorced. But, I’m not. Lack of self-worth isn’t my issue. (Also, it’s pretty ironic that people turn to social media for affirmation that being happy without other humans is possible.)
The issue is that humans are social creatures. Neuroscientists have found that connecting with other humans is as fundamental to our well being as food and water. My issue is that I am alone; I’ve lost my most valued human connection. Not having that fundamental connection in my life hurts.
I didn’t choose this future without Todd. I live each day the best I can without the vibrant happiness that I had with him, and I want to be more than “okay.” How do I do that? How does anyone find happiness again when they are forced into a solo existence?
I was thinking about what I’ve been doing to cope and move beyond “okay” when I ran across this excerpt from one of my favorite books–The Once and Future King by T.H. White. In the excerpt, Merlyn explains to a young King Arthur how to overcome sadness. White writes:
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake in the middle of the night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
This quote holds so much truth! For nearly two years after Todd died, my brain wouldn’t work. The trauma of coping with his sudden death left me foggy and muddled. At the 20 month mark, I began to want to do things again; I had an interest in living. My attention allowed me to read books again. I wanted to learn to write better so I joined two writing groups. I began to learn to play disc golf. Throwing a disc as far as I can on the course gives me a tinge of the giddy joy I felt with Todd.
I still miss my most valued human connection–I’ll never have him back again. I still hate not having a best friend and partner in which to confide and by whom to be loved. I remind myself often that I was lucky enough to have been deeply loved and to have loved deeply in this lifetime.
I’m patching up that Todd-sized hole in my nest with the joy I find in plastic discs, poetry, and books, feathering it with love from my family and my suddenly grown-up daughters. I’m okay, with a tinge of happy.
Thank you for this! It describes so much of what I feel. My husband passed away unexpectedly in May 2022, and my teens and me are navigating this time. Thank you for expressing how to move forward with having an empty nest.
Thank you, Sue. I am an empty nester for about a week now. I raised children for 41 years, about 30 as a single parent. After 45 years, I married my college sweetheart, the love of my life. We had 4.5 years together, 6 months of that in college. Grief is grief. Single parenting is single parenting. Enough back story.
After all those years of focusing on getting the children established, I know they will make it (one is autistic) on their own. It’s not that I’m done, but my WORK is done. And I have been focusing on that for so long that every day I wake up anxious, lost, and without purpose. I know that this too shall pass, but I’m experienced enough and in tune with myself enough to know that this is not a place of healthy mental health.
In balance, I’ve always known that I was born to be a father. I was, and I still am, but it’s all changed I guess I just don’t feel like I’m needed anymore. But I’m not ignored. The ones here locally include me in family things, and my son across the country calls me at least once a month, and usually more frequently. I appreciate how they take time for me because I know they are extremely busy people.
So as I weigh this all out, it’s a difficult transition for me. I just have to be patient with my circumstances and let things unfold. Thanks for listening.
thank you for this post, Sue. I found your blog after typing in “empty nest widow”. I’ve been a widow for 7 years after losing my husband suddenly. We had 20 glorious years and looking forward to more than 20+ more when he collapsed after running and turned out he had undetected cardiomyopathy. My baby moved out to go to college fall of 2021 and I followed her out of state, by selling my house, leaving our homestate for the last 15 years. That was a wrong move as I expected to have her support me in my new empty nest situation and only to be rejected by giving me many excuses why she couldn’t have dinner with me or meet me during college family weekend, etc. I am now preparing to make another move out of state so I can give her what she’s always wanted: an out-of-state experience, similar to what my son was allowed to do when he also left for college 3 years earlier. To lose my purpose as a full-time mother is more devastating than I anticipated. I was a stay-at-home mom when I lost my husband and what saved me after his passing was putting all my energy into raising our two children. Finding my purpose now is the challenge but I’m comforted to know there are others out there like me and I am not alone. I just wish there was a support group where we can all meet and talk it out then go out for coffee afterwards. Here’s to all you brave widows out there – may you find your purpose and happiness once again.
I completely understand and feel your pain. I’ve been a widow for five years. Going through the daughter moving out soon and I’m crushed but i can’t be selfish. She needs to spread her wings as well.
I can relate to this. My husband passed away unexpectedly May 2022. Sending peace to you as you bravely manage the life changes and do it well!
I live alone Widowed since 2014. My 3 children are grown and gone. I find my grandkids are my life and so are my 2 daughters. I can’t seem to venture out on my own
My nest is again emptying in another new way. I lost my husband suddenly and unexpectedly in October 2011, leaving me to parent our triplet daughters, then age 12. They have now all graduated college, for which I’m very grateful and proud.. Two are re-locating out of state, and one lives nearby. This is another new stage of parenting and life for me. What is my role and purpose now? I take joy in their successes and adventures, yet there remains a longing in my heart for more.
Thank you. I just googled “empty nest, widow, then covid” and your blog came up. Today I looked into a closet and realized that the huge stock of tissue boxes that my husband had delivered had diminished. No more boxes in that closet. Only a certain size of tissue box fits into the wooden tissue dispensers that we bought in Morocco. My husband found which store sold them the exact tissue carton size and had 100…or was it 50….delivered. They were stacked up in closets upstairs and downstairs, and it gave him great pleasure to fill the wooden dispensers once they were empty.
He has been dead two years. I miss his presence. Seeing no more tissue boxes today made it the end of an era. Or marked once again the end of him.
My two sons are here for Easter, and I am not really alone, and I have a good support system. But in the end, my husband is no longer here, and I miss him and can’t believe he’s gone forever.
Thank you, Sue for this. I lost the love of my life my King of 30 years suddenly, instantly, unexpectedly to sudden cardiac arrest June 2020, in the middle of a conversation together he passed out. Feels so unfair as our second child just graduated high school and were going to be empty nesters. It’s so hard and lonely. I want to find something to do but I feel so overwhelmed I don’t know where to begin. We were college sweethearts. Before my love died, I’d gotten engaged in theater again but I’m having trouble finding something to do to fill the time. I will strive harder to learn something. My heart broke literally when my loves heart stopped.
I understand what you mean when you say your heart broke when his stopped. Mine did, too. Your grief is still so fresh and raw. Be kind to yourself. Talk to yourself like a best friend would. Learning something, doing things, staying busy worked for me but might not work for everyone. I read Janet Evanovich books the first summer just to keep my brain distracted and to pass time. Everyone’s journey is different but we all share the heartbreak and loneliness for sure. Love and peace to you. ♥️
Thank you so very much, Susan. My love and prayers to every widow posting wish we can all do a big group hug. I feel guilty that I could not save my husband as it all happened so fast. It’s this guilt that I feel like I don’t deserve to be kind to myself, why should I, my King is gone I took care of him, he took care of me, now that he’s gone, why should I be kind to myself, I don’t deserve it and I shouldn’t bother. I know deeply that my husband would want me to be happy and be kind to me as he was always encouraging me. But since he’s not here, I don’t have the desire due to guilt and no interest.
Thank you, Sue for this. I lost the love of my life my King of 30 years suddenly, instantly, unexpectedly to sudden cardiac arrest June 2020, in the middle of a conversation together he passed out. Feels so unfair as our second child just graduated high school and were going to be empty nesters. It’s so hard and lonely. I want to find something to do but I feel so overwhelmed I don’t know where to begin. We were college sweethearts. Before my love died, I’d gotten engaged in theater again but I’m having trouble finding something to do to fill the time. I will strive harder to learn something. My heart broke literally when my loved stopped.
7 years post husbands death from cancer and life has fallen into a heap since – our daughter and he had been my “nest” – unfortunately without his stabling presence my focus became work and my daughter – only living relative. Friends disappeared – or in reality I suppose the years have made me realise that who I believe to be friends actually were not and just were there for what I was able to give them, but when I was in need – goodness they ran fast and far.
My daughter inherited hubbies family home and she and her new husband (covid19 wedding delays etal) – they have set up home – not too far away, but as my health failed after hubbies death I am now not working and unable to drive. I have kept telling my inner self that all is for a purpose, that this new journey is one leading to a goal even if I can’t see the proverbial trees for the forest – some days I can get through with this musing, others and they’re becoming more frequent, are hitting me hard. There is absolutely no-one to speak to other than reach out to a professional and that just makes me feel more and more isolated. I am so very happy that my daughter has a life journey ahead and am so very excited for her journey while at the same time I grieve my new role – one I have no guidance, comfort, security, financial capacity nor physical opportunity to grasp or grow through.
Dear friend, your pain is palpable in your words. This is such a difficult time, and our pain and isolation is magnified. Recently, I have used online counseling–telehealth– to cope with the added isolation (I’ve been very angry!) during the pandemic, and I have found it to be helpful. I hate that reaching out to a professional makes you feel more isolated. Everyone’s grief journey is unique and valid. Don’t lose hope; maybe you can make small daily, even hourly, goals for yourself, and in that way, create purpose for yourself each day, even if that means a load of laundry, cooking a meal, or watering a plant. Sending you love and peace.
Thank you for convincing me that i am not alone even though i feel so lonely and broken. Its a pitiful painful and a feeling of my insides being carved out of my body and a feeling of the deepest loss possible. My husband who was my knight in shining honor had been gone for one year now. The victim was taken frpm his family with stage 4 cancer. My whole family has suffered. My other most gigantic irresistible loss was my beautiful mother who took her last breath from this earthly workld, Dec. 18 , 2918 with a kidney disease. No one can prepare you for all such loss. No one understands mel like my daddy. No brother, no sister, no friend, or any famiky members. The combinations of two lives in my life will always be my alltime heartbreaking loss. Trying to fill this impossible grief will be here again soon as i live thru the Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays alione. I will listen, and try to identify your heart if you choose to reach out for help yoy. May God Bless you today!
You have lived through crushing loss and heartache. I know the holidays will be more than difficult, but I hope that you can continue to reach out to your sisters in hope here at Hope For Widows or in their closed Facebook group, which is a wonderful and supportive environment. I also hope that you continue to take steps–even small ones–each day and to not be hard on yourself (treat yourself as you would treat a beloved friend).
Thanks for writing! I am in your shoes. My love died in 2014 suddenly in a bicycle accident. I’ve been raising my 2 boys, and now my 20 year old “baby” just left to move to MT by bike. Its my first night alone in a big ol’ house. Didn’t realize how much they held me together. What am I doing now? I aslo work and have self confidence. Agree we are social creatures.
Thank you, and,
I’m so sorry
I hope this post helps you fell less alone in living alone. <>