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When Your Child Goes Off To College: 4 Steps To Grieving

As I wrestle with this paradox, with this profound passage in our lives -- both hers and mine -- I reflect on four guideposts to help me navigate the terrain. I suggest these for anyone who has recently sent a child off: to college, the armed forces, or their first adult adventure.
09/09/2016 12:09pm ET | Updated September 10, 2017
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She is leaving for college. And not just college, but an international university far, far away. You would think that I would be accustomed to this process by now. I have, after all, already sent away a daughter, a son, and a stepdaughter to college. I should be an expert on saying "good-bye".

But each child is different, irreplaceable, and I feel a familiar wistfulness welling in my throat. This one is my baby, the one who used to hold my hand in the grocery store, who used to whisper in my ear, "I love you mommy". That little girl has transformed into a competent young woman stepping forward on her life's journey.

I hold joy and sorrow in my heart simultaneously. And as I wrestle with this paradox, with this profound passage in our lives -- both hers and mine -- I reflect on four guideposts to help me navigate the terrain. I suggest these for anyone who has recently sent a child off: to college, the armed forces, or their first adult adventure.

Grieve -- Let yourself feel sad. There's no way around the fact, even as you celebrate achievement, you need to mourn the loss. Mourning means letting yourself experience the feelings of sorrow, sadness, even despair. One must feel in order to heal. So bring out the tissues, go through the baby books, and watch the family videos. Give yourself permission to feel the poignant sadness.

Share -- Talk to others about your feelings. You are not alone in this very common human experience. Find other moms and dads who have launched their young adults. Ask them how they're doing and what helped them navigate the transition. Compare notes with other parents in the same life phase - host a 'sip and sob' party. Joy shared is doubled and grief shared is halved.

Focus -- Keep your eye on the door that is opening and the positives of what you see ahead. Even as you honor the past, turn your attention to the new. Start with the new in your child's life: find out about the roommate, the new classes, and the campus life. Then, quietly take a step back and start to focus on what's new in your life. Do you have more time for a hobby or new activity? How about more time to focus on your other dear relationships? Your child isn't the only one with a new chapter to enjoy.

Flow -- Move with change. Resistance will only cause you suffering. Instead of fighting the current of reality, flow with it. Let the flow take you to new places and experiences. As I write in Shortcuts to Inner Peace, a willingness to go with the flow will always bring you to a place of peace.

In the meantime, rest assured that your college student will still be asking you for money, will still be coming home for vacations, and will still, from time to time, empty the refrigerator. Before you know it, you'll be wondering when it's time for them to get back to college where they belong.

This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at strongertogether@huffingtonpost.com.