How to Find YOU in Empty Nest


You know when you run a life marathon, and it’s over? And you’re lying in your bed staring at the ceiling wondering how to stop running? That’s where I am. Right now. It started with the moon last night, like a clementine section moving from window pane to window pane. And then with the first bird, calling me out of Mother’s Day and reminding me that they’re doing the nesting now, not me. And perhaps that’s why I signed up for the marathon. To fill up my life so that I wouldn’t have to sit in my empty nest, alone.

My marathon went like this: a month in Morocco, traveling solo after consciously uncoupling with my beloved partner (sigh), leading a Haven Writing Retreat at the end, returning home, beginning the final editing process on my novel with my editor, leading a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana, preparing for Haven II– my advanced workshop for Haven Alums writing books which requires hours and hours of editing, leading Haven II, editing the final copy of my novel (coming out in March 2020—a very old dream), leading one day workshops in the homes of Haven alums in Minneapolis, leading another Haven Writing Retreat in Montana, and coming home to an empty house on Mother’s Day, Skyping with my kids, mother, and sister, and then lying in the sun listening to my Haven Muse Music list on Spotify all afternoon. And I’ll admit it, crying myself to sleep. Until I woke at 4:00 am. Then lay awake until now.

I cried because it is such an honor to be a holder of sacred space for people. I cried because I can hardly believe that this is where my life has landed, doing this work, and I can’t imagine my life without it. I cried because I am alone and miss the daily-ness of life with the people I have loved in this house, and yet I cried in gratitude knowing I am so not alone. I cried because while so much of my life is about creating temporary community now, that feeds people’s souls in ways that blow my mind every time, at the end…they leave. That’s the way it works. Just like the act of daily motherhood. It ends. I cried because I have spent six years with the four women in my novel and they have to leave too. They are real to me and I don’t want to let them go. It’s become the theme of my life: building community, and letting it go. And I need a flipside. I need a community that stays, and one that I’m not in charge of.

But where to begin?  My place in this town has always had to do with my kids and serving their pursuits and the institutions and people who serve them. Where is my place here now? I know so many of us are asking this question, especially as single mothers in empty nest. How do we do this new chapter of our lives? I know this for sure:  We shouldn’t rush it. We need to go slowly. And carefully.

So right now, it’s the Moroccan prayer rugs that bedeck the rooms of my house, the poppies, peonies, lupine, columbine, forget-me-nots, lily of the valley that are re-emerging from my garden soil, the nesting birds in their full-blown springtime purpose. The white-tailed deer in the tall grass at the edge of my lawn each morning when I open my door, that startle but that don’t run. The frogs in the marsh at dusk when I close my door to the first star. The spiders that spin in my windows and drop from my ceilings. The mice I hear in my walls, but lately don’t want to catch.

When I am not holding circles of women on retreat from their lives, full-freefalling into their beautifully unique voices, this slice of Montana is my current community now. And it’s a sacred one, though so so different from how it has been. I have to find out who I am with these empty rooms, and the same piece of lint on the laundry room floor as yesterday. The tea bag in the sink from this morning. The water bottle still on the porch from last week. Things have slowed to an almost standstill in my personal world—from not just my recent marathon, but a twenty-five-year-long marathon…to a full-stop—and I have to learn to be content with that.

That said, I need my own circle of connection. And, Steven Colbert and James Corden, as much as I adore you…you don’t count. Social media does feel like community in some generous and inspiring ways. But I need actual bodies to interact with. Causes to champion. In-between-time talks like I used to have in the parking lot with mothers and fathers after we dropped our kids off to school or after a board meeting. “Hey, want to grab a cup of tea?” “How about a walk?” That doesn’t happen sitting on your front porch listening to frogs.

Mine is a little universe that needs to expand in new ways. So, first step, and yes slowly…in a few days, after two brutal years of life without canine companions, I’m adopting two big dogs. It’s time. The dogs will bring me off the porch and into the woods, but also to the dog park, and the Whitefish Trails, full of people and animals interacting. They’ll bring new energy into the house, and since they’re adopted, it’s likely that they’ll bring with them a very special brand of gratitude, like the other adopted dogs I’ve had over the years. The last thing these dogs have to do is move on. And the one thing they both will want to feel, is safe and happy in their new pack. Like me. New chapters for all three of us.

And then, after that, it’s time to step back into my community. One foot at a time. But it can’t be just because I fear being alone, or need to feel purposeful. It has to be intentional and sustainable. It’s not about my kids any more. It’s about me and my gifts and how I can give back. And here’s the big one: how I receive. Someone asked me recently: “Do you know how to receive without giving?” It was a damn good question. “I’m not sure,” I said. “I haven’t had a lot of practice.” Maybe it’s that I haven’t created ways to practice.

But either way, giving and receiving require stepping outside of my comfort zone and consciously connecting. It means reading the local newspaper and stopping at community bulletin boards in the café and grocery store. It means showing up at fund-raisers and events and having conversations with the local movers and shakers and decision-makers and inspirers, and probably joining a non-profit board…but it means not filling my life to the gills so that I don’t keep anything for myself. Which means it’s important to create sacred space to be just me in my new life, in communion with self. Not running a marathon, but lying on the prayer rugs with two big dogs. And staring at the ceiling. But not sadly. Instead, full in the best way, having given and received and having been led…and maybe leading too.

I have no idea what my new place will be, and who will be in it. But I’m ready for it. To give to it. And to receive from it. Thank you, in advance to whatever and whoever you are. Let’s have a blast! But not a marathon, please.

Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice.  It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana!  Click for more info. (my favorite time of year.  Still warm during the day.  Fire in the fireplace at night.)

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29 

***note Both June retreats are full…




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8 Responses to How to Find YOU in Empty Nest

  1. Love this. Love you. So good, sister. Like always, your words are a soothing balm. xo

  2. Donald J Stifler

    Well thought out and written. At 82 I have had many of the same thoughts. Been alone for 12 years now. But my faith is my companion. Therefore never alone. You have a place in my heart. My love to you. Always think of the picture of you Dad at the Lake Forest Depot.

    My love to you
    Your Minocqua Dad

  3. Yes I think you need time just to be. You and your new family. To take time for walks and to decide if you really like that chair in the corner or whether it’s time for something with a whole new vibe. You, walking down the streets of Whitefish, thinking about the reasons you love it there and what it’s given you over the years. There’s no rush to find the right fit, and I can tell you that forced happiness and new purpose and companionship on demand doesn’t work either. Gravitate toward those things that resonate with you, not things you feel you should be doing. I know you’re eager to find a fit, but you’ve just emerged from your marathon. Take a breath and just be… Love, Brenda

  4. Weezie Sharman Johnston

    As always, so well written and straight from the heart! Love you, Laura
    Weezie in Texas

  5. Ahh Laura, I am so grateful to hear all these thoughts of yours, so many of them tender and from tough circumstance. Thank you for your honesty and my condolences on the end of your relationship. May the natural world and inviting silence wrap itself around you now. Much love, Kara

  6. I feel you. When I saw your Marathon schedule, while you were in it, I knew you had to come down. Breathless, to inhale, exhale again. As much as you needed your marathon, as much you’ll need to slow-dance now. Seek where your heart sings, and leave space to be guided to it.
    Wishing you so much fulfillment in this new life. In calm shall your strength be.
    Hugs & love,

  7. Oh dear Laura I had tears in my eyes when you talked about the two dogs you have adopted. Dogs are the essence of unequivocal love and trust and never having to be someone other than yourself. I am so very happy you brought them into your life and I know they will love you with every breath you take.
    I am however worried about the fate of women in this country now that Alabama has decided to bring “The Handmaids Tale” to a near reality and Missouri is right behind. Please with all your strength and intelligence help unite women in this time of peril for their future! I know you have a daughter so let’s all protect her. This is part of your new mission I believe! Carry on for all of us. I will be right next to you!

  8. Jan Myhre

    Dear, dear, Laura,
    I was fortunate. I gave no thought to the empty nest I would have faced when my youngest found his wings. What I faced was the continuing disconnect I experience being away from my beloved Montana. So, if I could telepathically transport my body, mind and spirit, and join the tribe you eventually find yourself a part of (and I know you will have one) not only would I be happy, but I would be home. Instead, I will be happy knowing that you have a well thought out plan to find yourself, find your tribe and find your peace. Love to you in your new adventure.
    ~Jan from Spokane

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