Mom’s College Daze

C's hs grad

Cullen at his high school graduation

By Kathy P. Behan

Looking back, I always knew that I’d be devastated, but I couldn’t imagine the extent. After all, our son was just going through a common rite of passage, one that we had invested a lot of time, energy and money into. It was the fulfillment of a dream that we all shared. Our firstborn was headed off to college. Knowing that his departure was imminent, I went into a kind of mourning right after his high-school graduation. I couldn’t keep my eyes dry. I cried at every commercial, song, and TV show that even hinted at a child leaving home. I practiced my saying-goodbye-with-dignity scenario, over and over in my mind. But to put it bluntly, I was a wreck.

There was a lot to miss about Cullen. After all, this was a child who was larger than life, and always made his presence known. I’d often refer to him as being from the in-your-face school of childhood. You know, the kind of kid who always demanded your attention. “Look at me, Mom!” “Watch me now!” “What should we play next?”

As Cullen grew older, his need for us diminished. But he had trained us a little too well. Now, we couldn’t take our eyes off him.

As his departure approached, Cullen’s excitement grew in direct proportion to our dread. I knew that this was healthy and as it should be, but these thoughts weren’t comforting. I counted the days, then the hours, then the minutes until his send-off.

When the day finally came to drop him at school, I was in a functioning but shaky state. After unpacking his belongings in his dorm room, I was attempting to put his suitcase on top of the closet, when a rain of debris came down and some of it went into my eyes. Now I was crying nonstop.

Ironically, my injury made it much easier to say goodbye to my son. I was in so much physical pain that I couldn’t really focus on my psychological grief. We drove straight to the hospital from Cullen’s dorm. My cornea turned out to be scratched in several places.

In the days that followed, I was gradually able to make peace with Cullen’s departure. Yes, I thought of him often, and I had to resist the urge to call and text him constantly. It was especially difficult to walk by his empty room. I couldn’t decide if it was easier to leave his door closed so I could pretend he was still inside, or open, and try to ignore his absence.

Since then, we’ve had to endure our other son’s and daughter’s departures for college. My daughter is set to leave again in a few weeks. By the way, it doesn’t get any easier. Each child’s absence is a different type of hell. But what really is a comfort is knowing that when they’re in college, the kids are having the time of their lives. Yes, they’re working hard and learning a lot, but they’re also making lifelong friends and hopefully, taking full advantage of all that the school offers. It has been clear that my children have been thriving in this new and exciting environment – and that has been very helpful in my “recovery.”

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer specializing in family and health issues. 


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