I was completely and utterly unprepared for the wave of emotions that consumed me. No one told me, warned me, or equipped me with how to handle the very challenging, life-changing event of my child leaving home to go off to college. It was nine years ago now, but the fallout was so profound that I can vividly recall that time very easily. Maybe you are facing that challenge now too and thinking, “No one told me it would be this way!” Well, I hope this will encourage you to know that the sorrow you are experiencing is not abnormal.
My oldest daughters are twins. One went to the school of tech and got her cosmetology license and began working at a beauty salon during high school and continued after graduation. The other twin spent a year at a local college during which time she applied to and waited to hear back from Hillsong International College all the way over in Sydney, Australia. Yep. Australia. The land of “down under” that’s a whole different continent than ours.
Through all of our planning, learning about her classes, reading about the culture, the larger-than-normal bugs and spiders, etc., my daughter and I did give some thought to what it would be like with her so far away, but not enough.
And so, when the time for her to go, I traveled with her (I was not sending my nineteen-year-old to another country and not going with her!). Ten days there with her, helping her settle into her new home , we took advantage of the opportunity to see many amazing sights while there. But then came the moment I had to say goodbye. I didn’t want to let go as I held her secure in my embrace. Releasing her was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
Miraculously enough, one of her new housemate’s parents was traveling home on the same day and on the same flight as me. And it was a good thing that I got on the airplane with them and sat next to them because if not for that, I would have hightailed it back to her house and brought her back with me! Up until that moment, I had thought putting her and her sister at age five on the bus to kindergarten was hard, but this certainly trumped that! As I sat on that plane, still on the tarmac, I was seriously considering telling the flight attendants that I had to get off! The fight with myself to stay in my seat was real!
The whole thing felt surreal.
As many of you may have recently left your kid at their dorm, you know what I mean. It’s so very challenging to leave them, knowing you are not going to see them each day to check in with them and know what they are doing most of the time.
The fallout came shortly after. Her room was empty. No more hearing her angelic singing around the house. Our drives traveling here and there stopped. She was no longer leading on our church’s worship team—there was just this void.
And no one told me it would come. No one knew how to help me through the grief I was experiencing. And it was grief.
It may or may not happen to you, but if it does I want you to be prepared. I remember going to the local Christian Book store (which is now gone), standing in the aisle looking for some guidance on how to be a parent of a college student and how to deal with all these emotions around them leaving home but there was nothing! Every book I saw was geared toward parents of young children—none to help me navigate this trying time! I stood there in tears.
Let me encourage you though—even though you may still feel the painful emotions and the struggle of not calling them for dinner and missing their activities, knowing that what you are experiencing is normal, may help you walk through the grief. A few things that may help are; talk to others who have been in your shoes. Connect with groups who can empathize with what you are experiencing. I didn’t and my grief caused me to sink into a deep depression. However, there was more going on as well. A few months later her twin moved out and that following August our son went to college—closer to home but it was still all those same emotions of not wanting to leave him there! Our loud and active household of six went to a quiet, empty house of three (my youngest was going into high school). My filled calendar was suddenly not. Another year and a half later, the other twin joined her sister at Hillsong International College. We have had our fair share of short annual visits and long months apart from them!
As I struggled throughout that time to regain my footing and learn to live with a quiet house, I remember God whispering to me that I still had purpose and I needed that reminder. And maybe you do too. There was a song that was out around that time, “Anchor” by Hillsong Worship, based on Hebrews 6:19 (20) that says;
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
It was life-line! It reminded me where to put my hope—in God—and that he is unshakeable. No matter what you or I go through, God is faithful and he will not let go of you. He knows the pain and sorrow you feel as you learn to let go of your child and they make their way into adulthood. Without that hope in something greater than my grief, I don’t know that I would have ever come out of that depression. You can get through this, but you don’t have to put on a brave face and fake it. Know that your hope in the Name above all names will get you through anything.
Now, looking back at that time, even though it was one of the most challenging times of my life, I can find moments to treasure.
The moments God comforted me and strengthened me through a very “normal” step in our lives. The moments I decided that I would be available for others no matter their struggle. And those moments I knew my soul was anchored to something greater than my struggles because Jesus walked with me through the valley of the shadow.
Children grow and leave home, it is a very natural and inevitable part of life but no one told me it would be this way. Yet, through it all, I learned to trust God on a deeper level than I ever had before. And he continues to teach me every day to trust him more—and he will do the same for you! So be encouraged that you do not walk through this time alone and what you feel is not abnormal. And, through it, you, too, will find moments to treasure.