You have been talking about it for years, doing the college visits (in person or online) excited about the new adventure your child will have once there.  All of the planning, packing, purchasing, preparing- some fun, some frustrating (hi teenagers), some stressful.

And then she leaves and you feel it.  This underlying sadness, the loss.

Your brain comes in and argues with you.  This is a good thing!  She is where she has strived so hard to be!  Learning things that will hopefully lead to a bright future full of opportunities!  No reason to be sad! Be happy for her!  Stop acting this way! You wanted her to do this!

True, and you do feel happy and excited, and sad and miss her terribly.

I’m giving you permission to grieve.

When my daughter first left, I found myself tearful everyday for a month. The first week was the worst.  I remember going to the deli department of the grocery store and giving my order to the clerk with tears in my eyes.  I was so glad when she did not ask me what was wrong, but gave me a look that said, “It’s ok- I get it,” and just handed over the turkey.   Lord knows if she really did understand, but that’s what I felt. 

I remember going down each isle buying foods that reminded me of her.  Not that I or anyone else in my family were necessarily going to eat them, but just because it felt good to buy them.

Sometimes I’d play her favorite songs in my car and cry.  Other times if I heard a song that reminded me of her, I’d turn the station.

I couldn’t go in her bedroom for a week.  Wow, it was a like a tornado hit it.

Some of my mom friends in the same boat reacted differently.  They did not feel it as intensely.  Loss is so very personal, and we all respond uniquely.  Each loss is different.   I felt better talking to the moms who were struggling like me.  Having crying bursts, feeling tired, not really wanting to socialize, finding it difficult to concentrate, easily irritated and reactive.  Together, we affirmed out similar experiences.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Grief from a child going to college can’t be compared to grief from a child, or loved one, dying.  But the experience of this life transition can be very challenging and manifest strong feelings and reactions in the parent, sibling, extended family or friend.  When my daughter left, my husband was quiet and solemn.  One of her sisters was frequently tearful and found it hard to concentrate, the other more isolative.   I still cry at times when I think about her across the country, her older sister who is living over 1000 miles north of me, and my high school senior who will be leaving for college in a few short months (anticipatory grief- what life will be like without her here daily).  I cry as my high school freshman leaves behind her younger interests for more mature ones, and know these four years will fly by, and I’ll be crying when she leaves too.  Life transitions are tough.

It’s ok to have a bunch of different feelings at once, and it’s helpful to identify and express those feelings. Grief expert David Kessler defines grief as a “connection that has been lost.”  And leaving home, even for months at a time, is just that.

The days following her departure were hard.  As each passed, I noticed what felt comforting to me.  Here is what helped.

1) Connection –   I noticed myself withdrawing from people and activities for a while.  I was more isolative and had difficulty motivating myself to do things.  Even simple things like everyday chores and activities were an effort.  I put off what I could.  What I found helpful was doing things each day that connected me with her, with others, with nature, with God, such as

– Being with my husband and my other children and talking to them about their lives

– Wearing a sweatshirt from the college my daughter was attending and drinking coffee out of a mug with the college colors and logo.

-Sending her texts of images that reminded me of her- a sunset, a flower

– Calling her on the phone.  Sometimes using Facetime.  Weekly calls worked out best.

– Sending her care packages

– Meeting my friends for walks and social gatherings or projects

– Praying and spiritual practices with church community

2) Compassion.  I noticed that I was a bit hard on myself and my feelings about her absence (like for some reason being a grief counselor should give me a “pass” on this loss). I decided to treat myself like I would anyone who is suffering- with kindness and compassion.   


3) Activity.  I didn’t feel like doing much of anything at first.   But I found that keeping myself busy doing things was a helpful distraction, and gave me opportunities focus on things or people to enjoy.

-Reading books and other literature that I like, listening to music, making myself a cup of tea, exercising

 -Going on outings, playing games with my husband and children 

Making coffee and doing daily chores

– Working as a therapist

–  Being outside in nature practicing mindfulness

– Praying

– Tackling new projects

She’s in her junior year now.  Each time she leaves after a holiday or summer break it hurts.  But I’ve noticed the duration and intensity of my feelings is less.  In addition. I can better focus on her growth and celebrate her accomplishments, accepting the daily struggles she has as a young adult without it tearing my heart out.  I let the feelings flow, talk to my mom and friends who will listen and understand, get warm hugs from my compassionate husband and children.  And practice gratitude for it all.


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