My first sign that things were changing in our town was a friend’s post on Facebook, “We are moving to Colorado.” My friend’s leaving felt contagious, as she was the first in a long line of empty nesters flying the coop.
The “For Sale” signs began to scream a reality that along with the empty nest, comes the empty neighborhood. When our kids graduate high school, we all have deeper wrinkles, more time on our hands, and endings that seem to hit us hard. The empty neighborhood was no exception.
We should be used to life’s endings by the time our kids go off to college. Every day we say goodbye to the sun going missing beyond the horizon, while seasons naturally carry us through endings every three months. We learn to make the most of endings with birthday parties and graduation celebrations signifying life’s transitions.
We should be used to endings, but this one hits us hard.
In our town, the most obvious celebrated ending is the three-day Labor Day weekend carnival celebration, distracting us as summer bleeds into “back to school” season. The first years of attending the carnival, our children’s tiny, sticky fingers gripped paper cones of pink cotton candy.
As time passed, we watched our kids crash and burn at the hard-to-win carnival games, screaming on the stomach dropping rides and indulging in the deeply rewarding zeppolis. Years later, dropping off our teens a block away, and texting to coordinate pick up was the norm.
Looking upon those familiar streets now, I can only see the ghosts of my daughters and their friends, texting, laughing. In their place are unfamiliar faces, strange voices, younger mothers. A feeling washes over me of being out of place, or rather replaced. No different than the final scene in the movie, St Elmo’s Fire. The Brat Pack, heads to their favorite hangout, St. Elmo’s Bar, but think better of it when they notice a new group of freshman sitting at their table.
It’s how the movie ends, and how many relationships feel when time urges us forward, a sad but accurate reality about life. Yet if we had seen the sequel to St Elmo’s Fire, we would have watched them all grow up, get married, have children and eventually look out upon their empty neighborhoods.
Life’s circle suddenly becomes more obvious, like an insight to a problem I have never before solved; new beginnings always follow endings. The tearful mothers I see pulling their kindergartners from their clutches, will also eventually smash up against their teen’s SAT prep courses. We all must keep moving forward, because we have no choice.
Yet, there are always good things ahead. We can drag our feet as time changes, or let life take us forward. It is not easy. These five strategies help me almost enjoy each ending, knowing I will soon unwrap a gift of a new beginning.
5 Things That Help When Relationships End
1. Sadness. Nobody enjoys feeling sad, but it is a necessary emotion in life. Thinking about all those happy memories: prom, nail biting soccer games, carpool chats about life – while shedding some tears helps. Reminisce quietly or in a group about when your kids were young, and how this phase of life felt chaotic, but deeply rewarding.
2. Say goodbye. When friendships change, whether you are still as close or not, it is important to say goodbye. You can do this with a friend or simply to yourself. Not all relationships are meant to last forever. Some of these friends who we spent hours texting or sitting beside at the sports games, we may never see again. What we had in common may have passed, even if we developed a friendship that went beyond our kids. Plan that last dinner or go out for a drink. Laugh, cry and wish them well.
3. Make new friends. You may have to start over making new friends who have nothing to do with your children. Perhaps someone older who you would not normally get to know or someone younger to mentor may be a welcome change. Taking on a new role can be rewarding and life affirming.
4. Become closer with your spouse. While raising your children, friendships were your savior, but now that the neighborhood feels emptier, you and your spouse can fill it with romantic evenings, Netflix movies and weekends away visiting old friends. Confide in each other, and remember you are in this together. You are not alone and you may be surprised that he/she is feeling the same way.
5. Look for the new beginnings. Endings are a part of life, but new beginnings are too. When the endings feel hard, know that change can bring new life into your life, home and relationship. Welcome the excitement, adventures, opportunities and freedom that new beginnings offer with open arms.
Change is inevitable; challenging but also a gift. Sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and just feel those longings. Better yet, go rent St. Elmo’s Fire with a glass of wine. Laugh and cry along with this heartwarming story about how life moves on, and so do we.
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