Surviving Marriage After the Last Chick Leaves

I’ve been a bit short with my hubby lately. I haven’t been as tender. My last chick is leaving and I’ve been a little “stretched.” That’s no excuse, I’ve got to pull it together.

We were on a plane flight toward what would be our son’s new home…away…far away, at college. My thoughts raced back to when my son was a little boy. Glancing at my grown son from across the aisle I was jarred back to the present, “Mom, could you stop looking at me?”

He had to ask twice before I would comply.

After our plane landed and we all made the normal “pit stop” in the airport latrine, I could hear a young mom with her daughter: “Don’t touch that.”

“Put that down.”

“That’s enough…”

“Mommy, can I push the button?”

“No, it will flush on its own.”

As the little girl washed her hands Mom scolded, “Only push the soap once, you only need one push!”

Did this mom realize how soon time would fly and she’d find herself in an airport holding back the tears as she guided the way for her unwanted goodbye? I wanted to say, be present, Mom, enjoy the soap, enjoy the eagerness to push buttons.

Parenting is like an athlete preparing for the Olympics, it’s hard, exceedingly hard, some days you think you can’t get through the pain and struggle. Dropping a child off at college—or watching them move out—is a parent’s gold medal. The day we bring our precious baby home from the hospital our job is to prepare our child to leave, to stand on their own, to forge their way into the world. As we release our son or daughter our greatest rewards are ahead. I know this, and yet, it is so painful to drop him off, I feel as if my heart will never recover.

Why is this so hard?

While shopping for the things he needed for his dorm room I had a thought that almost sent me into a panic.

What if he gets sick? What will he do? I won’t be there.

He’s an adult—a grown man—pull it together woman! You can do this.

Big breath.

Yes, he’s an adult now, he’ll be fine.

Crisis averted.

I thought I was holding it together pretty well until parent orientation at the college. Really, Lu? Parent orientation? Yes, it was brutal for me.

Have you ever felt like your whole world was falling apart?

Well, mine was falling apart in a room full of strangers.

There were numerous speakers, and with each one, the realization that I would be leaving, but my son would be staying, got closer and closer. After an hour passed I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I began to fidget. Until finally, I could sit no longer and as the 90-minute mark approached I announced to my husband, “I’m out!” I got my stuff and went outside for some air. Luckily, my husband takes good notes and took in everything we needed, because, all I heard was you are leaving your son here, you are leaving your son here, you are leaving your son here…blah, blah, blah…

What do you do when you feel like you have no control but you want control?

After leaving our son to sleep at his dorm room I wouldn’t let my husband drive away. We’d be seeing him the next morning for breakfast before saying goodbye, but that didn’t matter to me.

“Don’t drive away. I can’t leave yet.”

My husband didn’t argue and allowed me to sit and stare at the dorm, which would be my son’s new home. I was immersed in my own hurt and grief.

Have you ever been so consumed with your own heartache that you miss much of what is happening around you?

On the way to get our son the next morning, Mike had a difficult time navigating his way to the college. The realization that he too was having a difficult time hit me abruptly. Suddenly my self-consumed, this is all about me selfishness was staring me in the face. I wasn’t the only one in pain, he too was feeling the loss. We can become so focused on ME and forget that our spouse has feelings too. When difficult circumstances arise we need to face them together.

Do you ever feel alone?

After breakfast we needed to drop our son off and say our last goodbyes. Worst. Thing. Ever.

Watching him walk away toward his new home got more painful with each step he took away from us.

From the time our children take their first steps they walk away from us. This felt like his final walk.

Do you ever hold onto things tightly when what you need to do is release?

I asked my husband to drive me to the school’s bookstore so I could buy a sweatshirt. For me! We had tried to buy one for our son but he refused it. I imagined myself at home, crying, sporting my new Ozark Christian College sweatshirt.

When we got back in the car, I asked my husband to return to my son’s dorm.

“Please can we go back? Please?”

With tears in our eyes we prayed for our now grown-up son while we sat in the parking lot facing his dorm.

We drove away together. Just the two of us. That’s how we started out and now it’s just the two of us once again. We needed to do this together.

Do you ever think you need to face challenges alone but later realize you were never alone at all?

As for me, I’ve got to get back to being the best wife I can be. No excuses.

Truth be told, so far, empty nest is painful.



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