Ask anyone who has been through a divorce and they will tell you it’s one of the hardest things they’ve ever experienced. It’s harder for some than others. I have observed divorce being most difficult for people in two specific life circumstances. One is the empty nest.

The Empty Nest

The feelings of abandonment and utter uselessness are exasperated when divorce and empty nest happen at the same time. It can be especially difficult if you were a stay-at-home parent who dedicated your life to rearing the children—one day your life was filled with purpose, and then it wasn’t. I’ve heard this referred to as “the mother wound” that every mother must endure. (Dads can experience a version of this too if they were the major care giver but I don’t know that it runs as deeply as for mothers.) When parenting ends, the caregiver is left standing at the edge of a cliff peering into a deep void. Others who lose a job can fill that void with a similar one. You can’t. There is no replacement. You face not only the loss of your children, but also your current purpose. It doesn’t mean there won’t be another, but at the beginning the sense of purposeless can be overwhelming, causing you to also face an identity crisis. I often hear “I don’t know who I am any more.”

New Purpose

The only way I know to get through this is to develop a new sense of purpose. This doesn’t happen overnight, and there’s a rocky path to travel along the way, but there’s something about the struggle of it that gives us strength, skills, and dedication for the next phase of our lives. That struggle can be oh so… painful, tiring, overwhelming, confusing. One thing I know from my own experience and the experiences of others I’ve worked with is that the longer and tighter we hang on to the memory of what was, the more painful and difficult the transition to the next phase will be. Yes, we have to revisit those memories to some degree to discover what we want to take to our new future and identify what gets left behind, but beyond that, hanging on just creates misery. It’s not easy to find personal purpose after being totally dedicated to the lives of others. It can even feel really selfish to become turn that attention inward for a while.

Double Loss

In an ideal non-divorced world partners would be there to comfort each other and reminisce with each other through this empty nest stage. There would be shared memories and laughter and celebrating what worked and shared burden over the things that didn’t. But we don’t live in an ideal non-divorced world. The parent who must navigate this transition alone needs many loving arms to fall into—many friends with whom they can reminisce, share memories, talk about failures, and celebrate accomplishments. They need to be held as they grieve this double loss in their lives: their kids and their partner. It’s hard to be vulnerable enough to ask for help—even when we feel life-threatening loneliness. If anything will tax your desire to live, it is divorce and empty nest occurring at the same time. Do whatever you must to save your life.

Finding Your Purpose

My joy is helping you find your new purpose and to get about living it. I know you want to be out of the pain and back into happiness. We can do that together. I, too, had to reinvent myself after the divorce/empty nest experience. Don’t do it alone. That takes much longer and is ridiculously painful. I hope you won’t do that to yourself.