One week ago today I said goodbye to our dog, Gracie. It was awful, as these things always are. But she had lived a good life, I told myself. I had cared for her and she had been a wonderful pet, I insisted. She was old and it was her time, I heard myself saying repeatedly, not only to myself but to the kids to ease them, to friends that offered their sympathies. So, it took me by surprise that in the moment she left this world I sobbed and sobbed like nobody’s business. Our veterinarian consoled me, friends posted lovely things that offered some comfort, but the ache didn’t ease the way I had expected. I had been through this before and it had hurt, but not with this level of difficulty.
Now I know what you are thinking- Oh, Cheri, don’t be so hard on yourself, losing a pet is hard. Yes, I understand that. But I knew in my heart there was something deeper. I knew in my subconscious that there was more at play. The truth is I had avoided it and put it off far longer than I should have. She was having almost daily accidents in the house. I wouldn’t take her. She was basically skin and bones, I wouldn’t take her. My husband often asked what I was waiting for, that she clearly was ready to move on, and I wouldn’t take her. I told him I was waiting for a sign and there was partial truth in that, but something in me didn’t want to let go of her, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
We were having dinner this past weekend with some of our dearest and best friends in the world. One of them offered their sympathies and comfort, having been through it recently with their own dog. I made all the polite social statements that I had found myself recently saying, but then I had one of those awful awkward moments where you’re fine one minute and the next words are in a full sob. I told them that our youngest daughter was struggling the most because she basically, at almost 16 years old, had never lived or remembered life before that dog. I told them that saying goodbye to that dog was like saying goodbye to my children’s childhood and WHAM!, the floodgates inside me opened and while I maintained composure in the moment, I knew the real reason I had waited for so long to take her.
I didn’t want to deal with or release the grief I’ve been carrying inside me for a while now.
The truth is, I’ve been grieving miserably and silently the loss of my children’s childhood. The truth is, I have an ache that fills me all the time. The truth is, it’s time to say this finally out loud and find a way to set it free.
I know I am not the first mom to go through “empty nesting”. I know I am not the only one who feels she has lost a sense of her purpose and identity now that most of her kids are grown and moving on. I keep waiting for the ache to go away. I consciously work on plans for our future, make gratitude lists of all the things magnificent in my life and truly look forward to the plans my husband and I have made. Oh, but the ache.
As Gracie took her last breaths I was transported through time and so many memories. I remembered when we first went to meet her at the rescue center, a formerly abused four month old puppy who feared men with hats. She had knocked my tiny Maddie over and made her cry and I questioned if she was too much energy for our little home. The time she ate an entire cheesecake and vomited it up on the living floor and the stain wouldn’t come out and I needed to get a whole new carpet, a carpet where for years my kids played dollhouse and created imaginary worlds. Or how every year when they searched for Easter eggs on Easter morning, she’d run around behind them “helping” them find the eggs. And, how when we fenced the yard I apparently didn’t opt for a high enough fence because she sailed right over it like a gazelle and my girls laughed and laughed and laughed. My sobbing was for the loss of my beautiful, sweet and amazing Gracie, but it was also because that dog symbolized some of the sweetest, happiest and best years of my life.
And I just didn’t want to let her go. I didn’t want to let all that go and accept that time period was over.
Two of our big girls left the nest over the past year and a half, another will leave within a few months and right after that our son will ship out with the Navy in June. Our last one will graduate high school in just two more years. It’s just all happening so fast. I know I should have talked to friends about it. I know I shouldn’t have held this all inside over the past year or two. I’m stubborn like that. Life has been busy and so full and I kept pushing my own time to grieve and find a way to cope and release aside. I know I am more than a mom and yes, before you say it, I know I will always be their mom. I revel in being a wife, a business owner, a leader, a friend. All those things mean the world to me and I know I will find my way through this.
I just never expected this level of heart crushing ache, you know?
So, where’s my soul sister empty nesting moms? Because I need some female camaraderie right now. It’s time to embrace the next stage of life, while gracefully enjoying the last tendrils of this cycle. It’s time to pivot and open my arms to what life will bring me next. But I need help. Because this is hard. Way harder than I thought when I had heard others speak of it before. As a coach I am usually the one offering words of advice, but this time, I need to receive it.
Tell me it will get better. Tell me I will make it through. I know this is the truth. I see my other friends as new grandparents and loving life and embracing the cycle. That’s still a ways off for us, so tell me how to fill the void. Raise me up. Tell me how to ease the ache…