A friend texted you recently, and said, “Just left Annie at State; it was hard!” After being very impressed that she had texted, much less used a semi-colon (note to self to brush up on your texting skills), you realized that, you can say good-bye in bits and pieces, and also in the form of a fall hurricane. Sumner said she always figured that if you could say good-bye and leave your daughter at college and still exist, then she could, too.
“Does life go on after your daughter leaves for college?” she asked. “How did you do it?”
“Well, I guess I started grieving ahead of time,” you replied. And you did. You bid your child good-bye, often silently, in bits and pieces. Gazing at your daughter sitting cross-legged on the floor in a shaft of sunlight, puzzling over her new gps, long honey hair falling across her face. Smiling as her old black VW sped into the driveway in the afternoons, and watching her climb out, cell phone to her ear, laughing and swinging her book bag over her shoulder. Knowing she’d come in, unload and mix a strawberry smoothie in the blender.
Sometimes slipping upstairs to have a good small cry, sitting on the corner of the bathtub, with the door shut.
So you didn’t say good-bye all at once. Even when The Day came–the date assigned to move her into the dormitory–you all pulled out of the driveway backwards, and you thought, with some awe, “All of our lives have been leading up to this moment.” You remember the first time you left to go to the hospital without her, and then returned home with the small treasured bundle.
After we unloaded all of her boxes of school supplies, bedclothes and ‘decor’ (boys do not have ‘decor’, only electronics and cords) and you made up her lofted cot, and then you and your husband headed into the crowded, sweaty elevator (always as slow as molasses) to climb into the car and drive six hours back home.
You were actually fine, talking to your husband in the car about nothing much, just sighing now and again. You were fine until…you pass the “Mr. Waffle” sign on the side of the highway. Suddenly your daughter was two years old again, in a car seat behind you, talking around her big pink pacifier, pointing at the sign and exclaiming “Happy Face!” First road trip up to visit your parents ( you all had flown before). So the smiley yellow Mr. Waffle hits you in the gut. You warn your husband, “Don’t be scared…this is going to get really loud, but I need to go through this, in order to get to the other side.” He looks petrified, but seems to understand. He doesn’t have to fix you, just let you be for a while. Meanwhile, you know he is missing her greatly, too, and feeling it in his own fashion.
So the hurricane came, then you hit the eye for a while, and then it stormed again when you went upstairs and entered her empty room. Nothing would move, in there, you realize. Stacks of cd’s and bottles of fingernail polish and stuffed animals–all sitting frozen in time. So you sat on her bed and wept. HARD. And then, the funniest thing happened…you got up, and walked out of the room. You threw some sort of dinner together, hating every second of getting out one less plate from the cabinet, and watched some shows, and went to bed. And the next day came, and you drove morosely around town, and then let your guard down every now and then, and got into some semblance of a routine.
“Hey, if I can do it, you can, too,” you finished. “Text or give her a call and plan a date to go visit. It helps to hear from them–that first time, and to have something to look forward to. Oh, and don’t worry if she doesn’t pick up–they are usually nice and busy there, instead of being bored at home.”
Sumner said they got home, and went and got bagels and coffee. Meanwhile, she is enjoying texting with her daughter. Both sound good. A minute, a day at a time.
“Oh, and there are a couple of advantages,” you say, “so focus on those.”
“Less laundry loads, fewer dishes…that kind of thing. And, really, having one less body around the house taking up space, I guess.”
“One less cloud of energy hovering around me?”
“Exactly–you know that darling little cloud is happier somewhere else. And not sitting on your sofa watching TV, because almost everyone else her age has left for college.”