Empty Nest Makes Me Ponder ‘What If’

My only child, Jake, heads to college this weekend. And those empty nest feelings are hitting me hard. My little boy who used to wear a superhero cape to preschool has grown into a young man, and I’m wondering where the time went!

My Baby Boy ~ 1994

I cried the morning of his last official day of high school before all the fun senior stuff began. I packed his lunch for what seemed the millionth time, made his breakfast and then sat at the table with him and cried. I was sad that his tininess was gone; that my “job” of being his mom would never be the same.

I’ve heard the term “empty nest” for a long time but I never understood it until now because it wasn’t me having to deal with it. It was just an idea before, and now it’s a reality. I’m going to be on my own.

That said, I’m so happy that Jake will be staying relatively close to home. He’ll be attending a wonderful private Christian University (his first choice) in San Diego that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. I know I shouldn’t complain when so many of my friends’ graduates are leaving for universities that are many states away.

I do admit that Jake’s decision to stay close to home makes me wonder what role my MS has played in it. I wonder if he wanted to remain in San Diego because of me, his mom who gets sick sometimes and doesn’t have a husband to help care for her when he’s away. I wonder if there’s been too much pressure on him to fill this supportive role for me.

I always wanted my son to dream big and follow his heart, wherever it leads him. But deep down I hoped he’d stay close by when it came time for college. Should I feel guilty because of that, or is that a feeling that all moms have? Should I wonder “what if” I didn’t have MS and “what if” he didn’t have the responsibility of being the man of the house?

My mind goes to these places often as Jake prepares to leave our comfy nest. I keep telling myself that there’s very little good that can come from my thinking about what could have been if things were different, if I were healthy.

Because the reality is that I do have MS and that Jake and I are such a great team, possibly because of the MS trials we’ve gone through together. He’s empathetic and caring and mature, and I have no doubt my MS had at least a little of something to do with that too. Life makes us who we are, and I’m so proud of who my son has become and the amazing future he has in front of him. Godspeed, Jake-bear!

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14 thoughts on “Empty Nest Makes Me Ponder ‘What If’

  1. Rich says:

    Thank you for your raw candor Tricia! I wish you would not be so tough on yourself. You’re an amazing mom who has done an incredible job raising a great young man under extraordinarilly dificult conditions. You deserve to celebrate your success at this proud moment.


  2. Suzanne says:

    I have tears running down my cheeks…I can’t imagine the mix of emotions you are feeling right now. It sounds like you have raised Jake to be an exceptional young man and I think it says a lot about where his priorities lie with staying somewhat close to you. Be happy that he chose to stay in the area and try not to feel guilty. Since I was diagnosed within the past year with MS, I pray that I will have many good years with my little girl who is now 20 months old. I hope she grows up to be as caring, empathetic, and mature as your little boy has. Great job momma!


  3. Sarah Harris says:

    Oh my goodness Tricia, I can only imagine how tough this must be! You’ve done an amazing job with Jake who loves and respects his mama so don’t second guess it at all! He’s had many great opportunities and will have many more to come because he’s a fine young man thanks to you!

  4. MC says:

    You are a kick ass mom TC. Jake is who he is because of you. Your boy has done growned up. I’m happy for him and happy your best buddy is giving you a very good reason to come check out the surf more often. Hang in there. I know you’ll be able to share in the new adventure.


  5. Mara says:

    Amazing mom, amazing son! Congratulations to both of you! I know you’re proud of each other, but I hope you’re also as proud of yourselves as so many of us are of you!

    And I’m here for lunch or a visit anytime…

  6. Peter Zaayer says:

    Tricia, there is no doubt that who Jake has become is because of the life he grew up in, and the mother he had. It was the plan all along! To wonder “what if” is so natural, but how many ugly stories exist of the children from healthy single mothers are out there? This is just a story of an incredible mom, that raised an incredible son. Thats all I see when I read this blog….. did you say something about MS? I have a good feeling of how Jake might answer your “what-if” question….. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!


  7. Paul says:

    It is refreshing to read your words and see how close you and your son are. A mothers job is never done and I’m sure he will be knocking on your door for words of advice and wisdom which you seem to have a lot of. I have to agree with a previous comment, don’t be too hard on you. You obviously have done a remarkable job raising this young man and I’m sure he appreciates all you have done for him as much as you appreciate what he does for you.

  8. Cheryl says:

    Hi Tricia,
    Be thankful that Jake is staying close to home and not going away to one of those Ivy League universities with all the frat parties that go with big college life. Staying close to home means that he will never have any regrets about being so far from home that he can’t check in on you frequently. Be thrilled that he wants to stay in the area. That means his love for you is solid. You did an amazing job of rearing him, now let go and let him make this choice knowing that you did a great job.

  9. What ans amazing son, and mom, to have become acquainted with. Best to you both.

  10. Carolan Ivey says:

    [[hugs]] I can so understand your conflicting feelings. When my daughter was born, I held her in my arms, looked into her eyes and told her I wanted her to have all the life adventures I’d never had (I’ve had virtually lifelong rheumatoid arthritis). In high school she told me her dream was to be a nurse on a movie set, or travel the world as a traveling nurse. Now she has her degree – working at a local hospital, looks to be falling for a nice local boy. I’m thrilled for her and want her to be happy, but I too wonder if at least a part of her choice has something to do with my health issues.

  11. t-

    what a heart wrenching and heart warming article!

    i have to admit that i am a little sad each fall when my girls advance…i know my time as an everyday part of their lives is inching to a close. i also know that the most important part my job is helping them move forward, outward, onward. OUCH.

    the fall facebook and blog posts bring tears to my eyes, sympathizing. this is what it is to be a mom….pouring in EVERYTHING you have….and then letting go.

    i would bet that the connection you and jake have would be strong in any circumstance; your particular circumstance brought out a depth and love and resilience in your son that may not have developed as beautifully and richly otherwise. no way to know for sure…but my money is behind the idea that a strong, beautiful woman led by example to raise a compassionate and exceptional young man.

    you have done your job so well. enjoy that he is close. if ms had something to do with his choice…count it as a little bit of silver lining. YOU raised a compassionate and competent young man and you have the blessing of proximity and more time with him on a regular basis.

    i know nothing will replace the everyday breakfasts, packing lunches, etc….but you will have a new level of closeness with the man you have raised. i hope the things to look forward to take a little sting out of the things you look back on.

    i love you! i am so impressed by you! i cannot wait to see what is next for you and jake!


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  13. Jill Barton says:

    I was surfing the web looking for “folks with ms that experienced empty nest” & found your blog. Sounds to me like you have an awesome son just like his mom. In 1986 when my boys were 6 months old & 4 years old I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Doctors were preparing for my surgery & determined it was ms without opening me up. I don’t want to sound flip but ms changed my life for the better. Ms made me realize at an early age what is important in life & what is not. I have been happily married for 36 years & our boys Michal 28 & Jason 32 moved away from home shortly after graduating high school so to be honest my husband & I have been empty nesters for several years. We all live in Colorado & fortunately both our boys live within an hour of us. It has gotten easier especially now that both our boys have families of their own however I STILL have those teary eyed moments where I have a good cry & wonder why we can’t all just live in the same house again, maybe different wings, hahaha. I suppose I know why but sometimes I do wonder as a society why we insist our children move away from their parents & if they don’t something must be wrong. I do think when kids (or anyone) see a loved one deal with a disease like ms it makes them a little more mature & empathetic for having been exposed to it. Well its late & I am rambling but I truly was having 1 of those late night weak mom moments & reading thru your blog & particularly this topic has really helped! I will be checking in on your blog often 🙂

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