The Five Stages of Grief: My Son is Going Away to College.


It was graduation day; thoughts of pride and happiness envelop me as I watch my oldest son walk across the stadium lawn and receive his diploma. He is my oldest child, making it to graduation despite his Aspergers. Thoughts of how he would destroy his class and run away in kindergarten fluttered through my mind.

Despite his “disability”, he had become a kind and intelligent adult. My happiness was short-lived. These thoughts of joy were quickly squelched when I approached him after the ceremony. “Mom, I’ve made a decision. I’m going to school in Tulsa and staying with Dad.”

1. Denial

Each summer my three oldest children go to my ex-husband’s for the summer. As he prepared his things, I remembered thinking, “He just misses his Dad”. I was sure that after a couple of weeks he would come to his senses. I was already getting information ready for the local colleges and universities and working out schedules and driving accommodations. As the days turned into weeks and his answer did not change, I realized that he was serious.           

2. Anger

For those readers that have gone through this life-changing event or are currently in the process, you may be able to relate to the maelstrom of feelings that you work through when your child tells you this. I remember asking my son, “What do you mean? Do you want to leave home? Why? What’s wrong with the local colleges and universities?” We had several conversations like this; both of us left feeling irritated and confused.

I was angry. I could not process how my son could decide to leave the safety of our home so easily. He was my baby. Every time I looked at him, I just saw my little Tooka Tooka who would look up at me with crocodile tears in his eyes when he was scared or upset. I felt that I alone could protect him from the world’s ugliness and violence. The problem was that I was still seeing him as my little baby and not as the six-foot-plus, two-hundred-pound man that he had become.

3. Bargaining

“Ok, what do you need?” I remembered asking him. I assumed that there was something at his Dad’s house that he found appealing. He wanted to pursue a career in computer animation, so I started looking up every program that I could find that had an animation program. I remembered thinking frantically of ways to keep him at home. Nothing I did worked – he was determined to move away.

4. Depression

“What did I do wrong?” I remember thinking. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy ate away at me. I kept thinking that there was something that I had done that was driving him away. I examined everything, from how I cleaned my house to my current marriage. The thought of not having my son around me every day made me somber and miserable.

You raise a child for eighteen years. As a parent, you care for them and protect them. You watch them change from wriggling, non-talking, cute little bundles into walking and talking adults. They are with you on most days from sunrise to sunset, every day until they move out. Given the fact that my entire life revolved around my kids – being separated from them seemed unbearable.

5. Acceptance

It was a difficult summer, but I realized that I was being selfish. The entire time I was only thinking about how I felt and was not considering his feelings. It’s hard enough going to college and trying to be an adult, but he was dealing with the extra difficulty of having Asperger’s on top of everything else. Instead of letting my feelings of fear for him and the fear of my changing household keep me down, I decided to give him the freedom that we all crave at that age.

Letting go

As you are aware, this whole process is not a pretty one. There were days that I was fine, and others in which I was a blubbering wine-drinking baby. My baby with little ringlets in his hair, smiling nonstop, was ready to face the world. As I drove him to his father’s house he looked back at me. I was reminded that when he was younger, he would look back at me before attempting any new activity awaiting my nod of love and support. I nodded and waved, with tears in my eyes – proud and excited about this new chapter in his life.




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