For many of us middle aged women a lot of changes take place which require some adaptive strategies. Some of us have physical problems that limit our activities or productivity at our jobs. Some lose our spouses to divorce, menopause, or changes from illness or even death. We all deal with these experiences sooner or later.
But there is one loss that can really hit home among all of the losses and changes occurring in the aging years. (I am only speaking for women, since I don’t know what men experience during this time.)
Our young adult children finally find the career they were meant for; the love of their life; the home of their dreams; the income to support themselves; their own debts, stresses and joys of adulthood. Their lives get busy with their own new families. They may move away. Their lives take a new path and you may not be a big part of it any more.
So we may feel lonely, useless, or purposeless. (Or so it may seem.) This period of our lives is of course Empty Nest Syndrome. It is normal to grieve when changes take place that deprive us of the former normalcy or activities of our lives, especially the fulfilling role of motherhood (or rescuer for some).
We may look at this new time as a period for renewal of our marriage, as long as our husbands are there (though sometimes they are there only physically or partially because they are still working or enjoying their own hobbies or activities.)
So how do we handle these sometimes overpowering feelings? Maybe my story will help someone.
Both sons found their own lives with minimal help. My husband died after declining health and suddenly it was just me in a three bedroom house. A year later while I continued working as a nurse, I had the foresight to start a little photography business for my senior years and took some classes in business and photography.
A few months later I developed sciatica and was put on restrictions not to lift over 20 pounds, because it worsened my pain and could contribute to the degenerative changes in my lower spine. I could not work at my career as a bedside nurse.
I had no Bachelors Degree so I couldn’t teach. Due to the sciatica I couldn’t sit or stand for long periods of time. With my age, 59 and a history of back problems, let’s just say the market wasn’t looking for someone like me.
I joined the local chamber of commerce in hopes of growing contacts for my business and thereby getting customers. When I found that they needed a volunteer, I jumped right in! The chamber provided a schedule I had missed and a usefulness in an office with little stress, no deadlines, no worries about having to sit or stand for too long.
I met lots of people and had many opportunities. One included photographing for the chamber and later the opportunity as a paid photojournalist for the local newspaper. I really enjoyed this part of my life because I was helping; I was learning new things; and I was making some extra money.
After my husband’s death I had the money to make improvements on the house. In 2014 I sold it to buy a condominium. No yard to rake and cut, lower power bills, and less space to keep clean.
So I am a proud survivor of the “Empty Nest Syndrome” and the “Nobody wants to hire me because I am too old or broken” complex. So here are some helpful tidbits of advice to help you through these potentially dark times.
1. Get busy!
Item one in survival during the Empty Nest Syndrome is GET BUSY! Make yourself get up each day, make up the bed, and go looking for something you can enjoy doing. And especially get out of the house every other day at least!
2. Accept Your feelings!
If you feel lonesome or depressed, it’s okay to feel that way! Cry, or go through the grieving process if you feel you need to. You have had life altering loss(es). Get help if there is marked or prolonged depression though.
3. Vent your Feelings
You need to express your feelings productively. One way to vent is to write! (Hmm, wonder where that one came from?!) Writing for me has given me a voice.
I could express thoughts and stories and make people laugh or feel inspired. I loved it! You may find journaling, music, exercise, meditation, prayer, painting, sculpting or taking up some form of expressive art to be helpful.
4. Find Yourself!
We have had a variety of roles throughout our lives: wife, mother, chauffeur, teacher, protector, nurse, rescuer, career woman, and many other roles. Now that we don’t need to do these things for our children what do we do??? Figure out who we are now!
Do you want to pursue a hobby you never had time for? Do you want to take classes in a field you always loved? Local community colleges often have classes for 50 plus folks. There is usually a Senior Center nearby to investigate. This suggestion may be somewhat less available now, due to Coronavirus.
If you need an income, seek employment. If you can volunteer, there are so many wonderful ways to make a difference where “you are planted.” Ask your friends for ideas. Look up volunteer jobs online. Schools always need help. But get up and try something. You have to get moving and do it soon!
5. Make Friends
If you never made really close friends before, now is the time to do so! Friends are a life line especially when you are widowed. This applies to men and women. Friends can be male or female.
A word of warning. Do not present yourself as the lonely person who “has to have a mate” in your life. There are human sharks who prey on lonely people. They play to that loneliness with so much overwhelming compassion and take advantage of a trusting soul. instead act like you are happy enough but make good, trustworthy friends.
6. Let Your Adult Kids be Adults
It is easy to think your kids still need you to help them like they did before. After all you need to be needed, right? Wrong. They need to make their own decisions, some good, some bad, while learning wisdom and confidence from their mistakes and their successes, just like you did.
If they need help they will ask for advice from you or an expert. Soon you will be looking at these adults with awe. Watching them grow as adults can be as much fun as watching them develop as children but without all the colds, sniffling noses, fevers, etc. of childhood!
7. Have a positive attitude.
Don’t dwell on the mistakes you made or are making. Look at past mistakes as learning experiences that make you wiser. Look for the new you and look at the good things you have going for you. If you don’t have good things going for you, find some or make them happen.
8. Take good care of your mind and body!
In our youth we tend to feel that we are invincible. We do stupid, careless things out of ignorance, stubbornness or thrills. Before it’s too late, eat healthy; nip problems in the bud before they become big problems. Know your body, its limits and follow them!
Remember there may be grand-babies being born to occupy your heart and mind soon enough. But there is another birth you can rejoice in: the birth of a new you and your new life as a senior adult. Don’t forget senior discounts are a big perk too.