Dealing with the Grief of a Family Member Gone to College

I was more prepared to drive away and leave Kiki at college than I expected. My brain just pulled out the coping skills that I have used each time I leave my kids for a convention. I focused on the road, the drivers, and road trip math. (How many miles to home? How many hours to home? How many minutes to home? Repeat.) If my brain wandered toward thoughts which would lead to tears, I redirected it, because I had a job to do and that was to get home safely. I focused on doing that job.

Others were less prepared with a suite of coping strategies. I arrived home to discover that Link’s world was upside down. Everything he did in our house turned his thoughts back toward his grief that Kiki is gone away. He couldn’t picture anything ever being happy again. Howard and I sat with him and began the process of teaching him some strategies for handling grief. The first strategy is to know that grief is messy and takes it’s own time. We let Link know that it is okay to feel whatever he feels for however long he feels it. We listened to him as he tried to talk about what it was that he was feeling. Then when Link said that he wished he had a new game, one that wouldn’t always remind him of Kiki, because games are how he gets his mind off of things, Howard volunteered to take Link to the store. We can’t buy grief out of existence, but distraction and trying to continue on is part of dealing with grief. So we’ll aid this particular distraction which will help Link for a few days when the sadness is fresh. After awhile we’ll start to have a new normal and the sadness will be in pockets instead of pervasive. As we hit the pockets we will acknowledge them, feel them, and keep going.

According to online posts, Kiki is feeling some loneliness this evening. This is not surprising. We are all off balance this evening, not even sure what comes next for our family patterns. In the morning we’ll get up and there will be things to do, tasks to complete. Following those lists will help us put aside the uncertainty and just task our way to a new normal.

It helps me that I got to go help Kiki set up her room. She could have done it herself, she’s fully capable. I could have dumped her with her stuff on the curb and she would have been fine, but we both wanted me in the room. I helped her sort, turn chaos into a space that will house her next adventures. I have a place to picture her. I made sure to take pictures both of the space and of Kiki in it, because when the other kids miss her, I can show them the pictures and they can see she is well. Link saw the pictures today. He was still sad afterward, but the memory of those pictures will help to attenuate the sadness over time.

It has not really hit Gleek or Patch yet. It will. Because feeling sad you’re going to miss someone does not prevent actually missing them. We move onward because the only way to find new peace and happiness is to keep going.

1 thought on “Dealing with the Grief of a Family Member Gone to College”

  1. One piece of advice I was given as I went to college was “The first two weeks will be one of the loneliest times of your life”. Just knowing that was helpful in getting through.

    The difference is that 36 years ago, chatting with friends from on via FB etc was not an option – I don’t know whether that will make things better or worse.

    Tell Kiki “Good Luck and Have Fun”.

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