For the past 5 years, I have been grieving.
I was barely aware of it.
I wasn't grieving all the time. Just some of the time.
And it certainly wasn’t the ONLY thing I have been doing for the past 5 years.
I was also building.
Building a new career.
Building a new life.
I am an Empty Nester.
Well… that is what I am often referred to anyway.
I kind of hate the term.
My youngest child left for college five years ago.
It was almost too much to bear.
All I wanted to do was move away from the house and the small suburb that held so many memories of raising my three children.
I was experiencing both a feeling of craving the familiar, and a drive to create something new.
I found a way to do both.
While creating the something new (Judy Myers Life Coaching), I also moved to a city about 20 miles away. There were several compelling reasons to move there: it was a big city with all its amenities (restaurants, theaters, an art museum, a symphony, a big community center), it was 30 minutes closer to our condo in the mountains where we spent most weekends, AND our son happened to live there.
And, since our big new condo was way nicer than his average little apartment that he shared with a random roommate from medical school, he happily moved back in with us. (Not to mention he was thrilled to get home-cooked meals and free rent).
Yay…. I could be a Mom again.
I knew this role.
I loved this role.
Some things were the same.
But some things were very different.
After all, he was a grown up now.
He lived with us for two years, moved out, and eventually got married.
The time that he was with us was great! I was able to both tap into the familiarity of my “mom life” and at the same time, forge a new career path for myself.
But here’s the kicker, one week ago, my son moved 1000 miles away to begin a three year residency.
And now I find myself, once again, on the threshold of those pesky Empty Nester feelings.
Once again, I feel ambivalent.
I am both really happy for him AND really sad that I won’t get to see him very often.
So here I am, in this place 20 miles away from where I had a very full life 20 years ago, and I realize that I don’t really like this city. I don’t want to be here anymore.
I feel the pull to go back to where I was.
Not to the exact same town, but close by.
I crave familiarity, connection and community.
I want to play Mah Jongg with my old friends.
I want to run into people at the grocery store whose stories I know and ask about their families.
I want to go back to my chiropractor and my dentist and my hairdresser.
I want to shop in the grocery store that I knew so well.
This morning, I happened to read an article about grief.
It talked about the three different types of grief: obvious grief, not so obvious grief and ambiguous grief.
Obvious: losing a special person, pet, job or home.
Not so obvious: loss of a dream, health, change in a comfortable, familiar daily routine.
Ambiguous: caught between celebrating and grieving.
Here are the examples the article gave for ambiguous grief: being in an accident where you are alive but sustaining permanent damage; having a loved one missing, but there is hope; and sure enough, the “empty nest syndrome.”
So that’s what I have been going through? An “Ambiguous” Grief?
Because, it certainly hasn’t been all bad.
There has been a lot of celebrating too!
I started a new career that I love!
I have totally enjoyed the complete freedom I have.
The new condo we moved into is nicer than my old house.
I no longer have to manage garbage removal, snow ploughing, and landscaping.
I am thrilled to not have to spend nearly as much time doing laundry and cooking and cleaning!
But I am realizing now that the joy has also been escorted by intermittent, low level, subtle feelings of grief.
And here’s the thing, being able to name my grief helps me address it.
When we experience a vague, nagging sadness, we need to explore it. We need to go deeper and find the place of grief.
Now that I know what is going on here, I can apply my time-tested tools to my ambiguous grief. These don’t fix everything immediately but they keep me from making a rash decision just to escape my grief. They help me explore and be present with my grief so that I can move to the other side of it.
Here are some tools we can all use when we are experiencing grief, no matter what kind it is:
Gently focus on how your lungs feel as they rhythmically expand and deflate. This helps because when we bring our attention to our breath, we actually send our brain down a different neural pathway and it interrupts the stress loop of our mind. You simply cannot think stressful thoughts at the same time as you are paying attention to your breath.
Release Oxytocin and Endorphins
This will make you feel comforted and safe.
You can do this by connecting with friends, getting a massage, going for a run, meditating, laughing (watch a funny movie), or surrounding yourself with color.
Create a Feeling of Gratitude
Choose to purposely think about positive and happy memories of the people, pets or seasons that you are grieving.
Open Focus Exercise
Look at any item in front of you.
Without shifting your eyes from the item, allow yourself to be aware of the space to the right and to the left of it.
Let your peripheral field of vision widen spontaneously at its own pace to take in that awareness. Once you develop that awareness, enjoy it for a few seconds.
Now, gradually begin to sense the space above and below the item.
In a few moments, still without shifting your eyes, allow yourself to be aware of the three-dimensional space between your eyes and the item.
Finally, become aware of the space all around you.
Expanding our three-dimensional visual awareness of space creates a change in the way we are paying attention. We go from a narrow focus to an open focus. Physically, this diminishes the stress chemicals in our brains and body. Emotionally, it allows you to see a bigger picture.
Comment below if you used any of these tools to explore your own grief and if they helped you.
Oh, and by the way, I am editing this blog as I sit in the airport, awaiting my connecting flight to see my son!