Tag Archive | empty nest

Emotional Rituals

A long time ago I consciously realized how much humans are a ritualistic people. I don’t think we actually measure the passage of time by the clock or the calendar, but rather we mark time through rituals and ceremonies. We create rituals for weddings, births, deaths, graduations, birthdays, wins and losses in sports, promotions, retirements, holidays, new years, and the list goes on and on. They are all important rites of passage that help us mentally shift from one circumstance to another. I believe that’s why traditions are so important for people. They are the actions that mark time and the shifting of seasons. It’s how the human brain allows things to end and begin. It helps us with the difficult shift of change.

But there’s one area of life that we seem to neglect, and that’s emotional rites of passage.

Part of my work in human resources is helping with personnel issues. I started to notice that a lack of ritual was at times keeping people emotionally stuck. It showed itself when a project suddenly ended because of priority shifts or lack of funding and teams unceremoniously and abruptly disbanded. This left people with feelings of separation and incompletion. Sometimes it was when roles shifted and people suddenly found themselves temporarily without a manager. Without warning their career support system was just gone with no idea when someone new would be coming. They felt abandoned, even though they intellectually understood what was happening. Other times it was when someone was demoted and quietly moved to other work. This left a list of emotional stuckness for the person and sometimes for the managers who had to make the decision. People can’t always articulate what is in the way for them but moving forward seems extra hard or nearly impossible. I have learned some things from these struggles and have been able to help people create their own private rituals to make the emotional shift, thus helping them mark one time as over and the next to begin. I’ve seen it work time after time.

Because of that work, I started to notice the times when I am stuck because there was no ritual. I became increasingly aware of the need to create my own private rites of passage. I have found that it has made all the difference. Here’s a few examples:

> Going through a divorce and dealing with the sudden change at home was the first one I noticed. Sure there was the court date that served as ceremony for the divorce and marked the shift in marital status. But where I found myself stuck was with the sudden and awkward emptiness in the house. The way we interacted in the space had suddenly changed and I felt like normal routines were shifting like quicksand. In this case, the house wasn’t filled with loving family helping to box up or sort through personal belongings or memories as would happen if there had been a death. It was just me and my kids, suddenly and obviously filling and using the home differently. So I created a blessing ceremony. My kids and I lit a candle and walked through each room of the home saying a prayer of peace and harmony. I reclaimed the house as my own and blessed it. That made all the difference to me emotionally and whether they knew it or not, I believe it made a difference for the kids as well. It felt like I was “moving in” to my home on a new emotional level.

> As my daughter moved to college, and later to New York for her co-ops, I knew the moves were temporary but they were a shift in my emotions. I felt awkward and alone in a different way. I wasn’t officially an empty-nester yet but it was coming in waves. So after each time she temporarily moves out I have created my own ritual. This one always starts with a few tears. For those who know me – no surprise there! They are not tears of mourning as much as sentimental tears as I do a mini walk down memory lane of the little bitty girl who I’ve proudly watched grow up and become independent. I don’t plan on this part of the “ceremony” but since it keeps coming up spontaneously I’ve learned to accept it as part of my what I need. Then I will make myself a cup of tea or glass of wine and I sit and make a list of things I want to accomplish while I have this time of solitude. I follow that by viewing a favorite movie that I have enjoyed with her over the years and I mark the ceremony as complete. It really has made the transition go more smoothly for me when I’ve done this.

> When I was selling the home that I raised my kids in, it was on the market for 5 years. I had renters for a little while, but when they moved out there was a lot of cosmetic but costly damage. I worked hard and fixed it back up to sell. Through that time, although I no longer lived there, I found it emotionally hard to go through the house in its empty state. I wanted so desperately to sell it, but it felt like the house was clinging to me. I needed to somehow move emotionally past it in order to sell it. So one day I decided to do something different. Rather than avoid the memories and the emotional ties, I chose to have a releasing ceremony. Again I walked through each room of the house. This time, rather than claiming it, I released it. I sat in each empty room and allowed the strong memories to come to me. I smiled. I cried. I forgave. I acknowledged. I mourned. It was all about the people and experiences that had taken place there. I had loved that house so completely when I had moved in. So I energetically thanked the house for sheltering me and my family. I placed a drop of the essential oil named Release in a corner of each room and left a silk flower on the window sill in the kitchen as a gift-giving gesture. I verbally and ceremoniously said good-bye to that house and with a heart of gratitude I left the house differently that day. Yes, I know the house wasn’t actually clinging to me, but I was emotionally clinging to it as my “family” home. That ceremony allowed me to make the emotional rite of passage I needed to move from owner to maintainer. Shortly thereafter the house finally sold. Was it magic – no. Was there an energetic and emotional shift there – absolutely!

Those are a few examples of ceremonies that I have created. They have worked so well for me and I’m thankful that I learned to be conscious of my emotional/mental need for ritual. I encourage you to look for the places where your heart is stuck. Do what works for you as a ceremony. And be blessed.

My confession

I have a confession to make. It is with much chagrin that I must admit  – I still have my Christmas tree up and lit at my house. Crazy, no?

I didn’t plan this decorating gaffe but I’m secretly still enjoying the outcome. As with any self-respecting woman who tries to stay on top of things like this, I made plans to take down my tree much earlier. I always purposefully leave up my nativity and tree until after Jan. 6 in honor of my Catholic upbringing as that is the Epiphany, or when the wise men arrived at the manger. I like the tradition, which acknowledges the real 12th day of Christmas.  So on Jan. 7 I summoned the appropriate ornament boxes from their storage spot. But this year something happened that stopped my efficient need from removing this lone Christmas decoration. My son, who is 23 and has never once in his life had an opinion on such things, declared that I should NOT under any circumstances, take down the tree. Now, he never commented throughout the season that he even liked the tree so I was taken aback. Here was this man-child telling me how cozy the lit tree makes him feel as he walks through the house. He even did a little begging as I recall (and I’m sure he’ll deny this).

So – what’s a sentimental, near empty-nest mom to do? Having lamented for years that my kids didn’t seem to notice or care whether I decorated for any holiday or every holiday, I was inwardly touched. And so – my tree still stands with all it’s flashing light glory. I’m daydreaming of schemes for how I can justify it staying even longer as I too love the ambiance it brings to the room. Without it the room, although decked out with cozy creature comforts and warm color (red) on the wall, seems a tad bit cold. Tonight we’re supposed to have ice and snow. Now what’s better with that kind of winter weather than a cheerfully lit and blinking tree? Nothing. Tonight it stays.

But the Catholic guilt (or is it the decorator in me feeling guilty) is creeping in. The seduction of Valentine’s day is peaking it’s head as I do my errands about town.  Alas, I see the end is nigh and this weekend the said tree must fold it’s unadorned head into the dark of the cardboard box and live out the rest of the year in the basement. Farewell cheerful tree – you’ve served us well, beyond your time.

You Are My Sunshine

It’s a difficult thing to do – this letting go business. I’m “almost” an empty nester but most days I feel like I’m there already. My oldest, Tony is 23. While he lives at home he spends his time with his special girl, his job, his friends and those games that entice almost every member of his generation. And my “baby,” Maria is on the threshold of 21. When she’s not on campus or working at the bridal store, she’s out gallivanting around the big apple during her NYC co-op. She’s turning into the woman and designer she’s always wanted to be.

But WAIT one cotton-pickin’ minute! Who the heck gave them permission to be that old? Not me! It feels like I just had them last year. I remember the years but they slipped by so fast that it seems surreal. Did I take enough pictures? Probably not. Did we dance and sing and play enough – we sure did try. Did I fill their stockings and hearts equally well? I think so. Did I teach what they needed? I pray so.

And today I stand with my feet stretched across the chasm of change. One foot slipping on the memories of their childhood and the other firmly planted on the edge of their leaving. I’m not really enjoying the splits move in which I find myself. Ok, most days I’m just busy and don’t take note of how fast that empty nest label is rushing at me. Denial is an art you know!  But days like today, I feel every second. I want to rush back and watch one more soccer game, drive one more carload of kids, and welcome one more batch of cold and revved up teens when the football game is done. I want see one more improv  fashion show and have one more craft day. Please – just one more.

But we go on, sliding forward into the change that in inevitable. I hope my kids remember some of the sweet things that I do about their time under  my wing. And when trouble comes and they knock on my door, I’ll give them a hug and in my heart will once again sing “You are my sunshine” and rub their hair. They’ll need me once again – just in a different way, and the nest won’t feel so empty that day.



I have always been curious about my purpose in life.  I’m sure you have too.  But sometimes I got overwhelmed with the daily routines, the small and large hurts in life, and even the celebrations.  I got into ruts and habits that swept away my days and nights.  I made no progress on my quest to know just who I am and why on earth that I’m on the earth.

Now that my life is much quieter, what with being an empty nester, I have time to ponder this.  That’s the typical ebb and flow of life I guess.  That’s what the quiet times of “middle age” affords us.

So, I’ve been pondering.  Nope, I haven’t found the grand answer of all answers but I have found some clues.  When I look back over my life from youth through parenthood I can see my “threads.” I can see what caused me to lose my “voice” and follow someone else.  I can see the times when I was distracted by the shiny object off in the distance.  Sometimes it was the glitter of hope and sometimes just a piece of glass that was meaningless.  I can see the bright spots where my faith and passion shined through and I was carried away with excitement and purpose.

For me, there’s always been an element of messenger to those bright spots.  I may not have been the hero but I could tell the story of the hero.  I may not have been the savior but I could teach about the Savior.  I may not have been the star but I can point the way to the star.  There is peace in this – knowing what my place is.  So – I can now breath and know my gift (at least it’s one of the major ones).

What is your gift?  What’s that thing you do that excites you and centers you all at the same time?  Do you know?  Is your life quiet enough for you to explore?  Just wondering ….