Adjusting to Life with an "Empty Nest"

Meet Shirley Rueggeberg, and find out how she learned to cope with her sons leaving home for college.
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Shirley Rueggeberg recalls the day both of her sons went off to college. They were living in Augusta, Georgia at the time and her boys – Jason and Jeremy – both headed off to the state college in their town.

“I knew they weren’t too far away, but it became a very different home during the school year,” Shirley said. “It was quieter and there were far fewer messes for me to clean up!”

While her sons would return for summers throughout their four years at college, Shirley remembers a mixture feelings.

“It was really bittersweet. On one hand, my children were grown and the house was quiet. On the other hand, for the first time in many, many years, I could decide what I wanted to do, what I wanted to eat for dinner, and what my schedule would be,” she said.

Her oldest son, Jason, graduated with a degree in biology and chemistry. He then went on to chiropractic school. Her youngest son, Jeremy graduated with a degree in Spanish education. After college, both boys were out of the nest and shortly after both were married and living their own lives.

Shirley decided it was time for her to live her own life too and she decided after several more years of working as a case manager for a rehabilitation hospital that she would retire to Delaware.

Her bright and airy home in Beach Plum on the edge of Lewes has served her well for nearly 12 years.

“I love my life in retirement,” Shirley says with a sweet smile. “It has been so fulfilling. I get up when I want to, I can walk downtown, I can go walk on the beach. Lewes is a fantastic place to be living in retirement.”

And, when she gets bored, there are lots of opportunities to volunteer. One of her favorite ways to give back is at Beebe. With Volunteer Services, Shirley has been able to work in an office setting and also with Women’s Health.

“I really enjoy the office work because it keeps me busy and I like to be busy,” Shirley said.

When her children come to visit, she enjoys taking them to the local restaurants, beaches, and trails. “They really love it here,” she said. “Unfortunately, my house is too small for everyone to visit at once, so it has been several years since the whole family has been together at one location.”

After 12 years of living in Lewes, Shirley and her children have decided it is time to plan for the future. Shirley’s goal is to purchase a home back in Augusta where both of her children will soon be living as well.

“I plan to buy a house that will become our family’s homestead – our gathering place, and a place we can enjoy the holidays all together,” Shirley said. “It’s very exciting to think of being able to see my children and my five grandchildren regularly.”

Shirley calls it the next phase of her life. “It’s time for us to be together – to enjoy each other. It’s also the right time for me to start thinking about where I want to be in the future. At my age, we have to think about the potential for illness and if I need to be in the hospital, I want my children close by,” she said.

“I will absolutely miss Lewes and my friends here, but as many retirees know – it’s the cycle of life. Our children leave home, we retire, but eventually we need to make plans and be near our children again. I am looking forward to my next chapter.”

Shirley’s story is part of our Month of Mothers. For more tips and resources on retirement, caregiving, and planning for the future, click here.