For Friends, When Your Children Leave for College

Off to College

Off to College

This is the year when a critical mass of our friends must face their progeny heading off for their first year of college. Talking with our friends their grief (and make no mistake, it is grief – gut-wrenching, agonizing grief), and also noting that today is the one-year anniversary of when we dropped John-Francis off for his first day at Haverford, has brought back all of those memories from this time last year.

It remains the single saddest day of my life. I sobbed for hours, and then spent months simply sad and off-kilter. I felt like a limb had been severed from my body, and everywhere I looked was a reminder of my loss.

A few thoughts for those of you going through the same thing right now:

1. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not crazy, or melodramatic, or over-reacting. Don’t let anyone de-legitimize just how much this hurts. Just like any other kind of grief, allow yourself to move with its rhythms, and surround yourself with people who won’t try to talk you out of your feelings. (I feel compelled to offer special thanks to those who were there for me at this time last year, especially my own parents, Ginny Little, and Kim Pike. Thank you for not judging me for how often or how much I cried.)

2. Your friends who haven’t been through this are very unlikely to get it. In case someone in that category is reading this, please try to understand. It’s not that we’re not happy for our kids, or not proud of them, or wanting to shelter them. It’s that we realize that the nature of our relationship with them has changed forever. From this point forward, looking in on their room and seeing them sleeping in their bed will be the exception, not the norm. Staying up late, sitting on the couch, watching a bad movie together will be the exception, not the rule. Walking by and seeing them sitting at the table will be the exception, not an everyday occurence. Until you feel that tectonic shift in your life, you can’t appreciate how hard it hits.

3. It does get easier, but there’s no rule for how long that takes or the degrees to which it happens. Skype and texting help…a LOT! My own experience is that this past summer has made all the difference. It helped me to see first-hand how all of his good choices and hard work have made him even more the exceptional young man he already was when he left. My brain has also processed the fact that he does, eventually, come home, and that when he does he’s still my Boy.

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