Grief in the College Launch

by Donna Gibbs, LCMHCS, BCPCC

If you’ve just moved a student to college for the first time this week, you’re feeling a bit out of sorts. A little more emotional than you expected. And, maybe you’re confused by your response.

I get it.

I just launched my third child to college this past week. He is the third to launch within 12 months! (Yes, I have two sophomores and a freshman). Before I left to travel home after getting my sons settled, I decided to go ahead and put on my “Hot Mess” t-shirt and proactively own the onslaught of emotions that I could feel coming. 

It was an appropriate shirt!

Those that know me well would be shocked to know that I even have a shirt featuring the phrase, “Hot Mess”. I have a very narrow range of emotion. It generally takes a tremendous amount for me to have a strong emotional response. But I knew I was feeling it with this launch, so I purchased the shirt for the special occasion. Yikes!

But, seriously, why the strong response? 

Why is something so awesome also so very difficult? 

Why did so many parents shed tears this past weekend?

Because transitions are hard.

And innately we know that some transitions are permanent.

Things won’t ever be quite the same.

So, we reminisce. We remember their birth, childhood memories, hard times, funny times. And, in ways that are somewhat similar to a death, we grieve. 

Grief is what you felt on the long travel home. 

Grief is what you felt when you said goodbye.

Because you were saying goodbye to the child that would not return the same. 

You were saying goodbye to your perceived influence in their life. 

You were saying goodbye to any illusion of control over their physical or emotional safety. 

Suddenly, you felt helpless as a parent, with an un-welcomed duty to release what was never yours.

I get it! (Really, I do!)

But having already launched two of my children last year, I know that we are also saying “hello”!

Hello to a young adult who is figuring out how to live independently.

A young adult who is making their mistakes, and learning from them.

A young adult who is learning to budget, developing their work ethic, discovering new relationships, and finding their way.

A young adult who is establishing their faith, apart from ours. 

A young adult who is displaying bravery and courage. 

A young adult who is becoming a more grateful individual, with perspective on the challenges of life.

I am grateful that God draws near when we mourn. He knows what it is like to say goodbye to a child, knowing there is a greater good. He knows the heartache, and purpose, of releasing His own.

That perspective is a soothing balm to the soul.

So, let’s embrace our temporary, hot messes. Let’s allow ourselves to grieve what our children have outgrown. Let’s also allow ourselves to say “hello” to wonderful new adventures with our young adult children (because there are some necessary endings in this life). And, let’s praise the God who understands our emotions, and felt them Himself in ways we cannot fathom!

Donna Gibbs, LCMHCS, BCPCC

Donna Gibbs, co-owner of Summit Wellness Centers, PLLC, is author of the recent releases Silencing Insecurity and Becoming Resilient. Donna has authored numerous other books, her blogs and articles have frequently been shared in various media outlets, and she has been featured on radio broadcasts across America, and internationally as well. Donna has been providing individuals and families the hope and help they need for over two decades as a North Carolina Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor (LCMHCS) and a Board Certified Professional Christian Counselor (BCPCC). A member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), she is a professional provider for Focus on the Family, Christian Care Network, r3Continuum, FINDINGbalance, and Samaritan’s Purse.

Follow Donna’s author page at for daily encouragement, the weekly blog, and updates regarding events and speaking engagements.

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