Early Departure

At this time of year, when many mothers and fathers are sending their kids back to college, I am drawn back to one particular late summer morning and a moment I shared with my daughter.

When she went away to college, I was left behind in the house of boys. I lost my companion for shopping, knitting and girl talk. I would not have expected my two sons or my husband to sit and knit with me, weeping in front of Gone With the Wind  or Lonesome Dove (our two favorites) during the heartbreaking scene when Rhett won’t allow them to bury his darling daughter, or the one when Gus dies and leaves two women behind to grieve. Girl talk doesn’t work the same with boys. I missed her, and I missed the things we did together.

When my daughter came home for the summer after her freshman year of college, we went through the typical adjustments that occur when a newly independent young adult re-enters the family: we acknowledged her status as a nocturnal animal; she expressed her dismay at again sharing a bathroom with her two younger brothers, and we sat back and watched as the three kids settled into familiar family routines. We got used to her coming and going at odd hours—and her new hair color.

That first summer passed quickly. I drove her to the airport on Labor Day weekend, 1997. I came inside the terminal with her, since back then you could give good-bye hugs at the boarding gate, instead of settling for the hasty farewell at the curb—under the watchful eye of an airport cop. On that early morning, on a day that I knew would stretch into loneliness, I was excited for her but sad for myself.

A woman sitting across the room from us held a folded newspaper. All we could see was the word DIES in huge typeface.We looked at each other and wondered: Who? My curiosity got the better of me.

“Who died?” I asked the woman.

“You didn’t hear?” She unfolded her paper and showed us.



Princess Diana.

“Oh my god,” I said. I turned to my daughter.

“Do you remember the wedding?“ I asked her. “You were little—only three-and-a-half years old. I woke you up and turned on the TV so we could watch the Princess get married. I wanted you to see the wedding with me. We whispered and kept the sound low so we wouldn’t wake your baby brother. You held up your dolly with the yellow hair so she could see the princess too.”

“I remember,” she said. “Wow.”


And then my almost grown-up daughter—the little girl I remember cuddling next to on the couch as we watched the beautiful young princess in a long dress and veil arrive in a carriage while the people cheered and shouted—my daughter, at that moment, almost the same age as Diana was on her wedding day, hitched her backpack over her shoulder and prepared to board the plane.

We hugged each other, still a little dazed.

9 Responses to Early Departure

  1. Wow. I don’t have a daughter, but wow. Every time I read a post about children leaving the next….wow.

    Diana? That still haunts me, because she was beautiful, lovely, passionate and an excellent mother. Wow.

  2. I’m always surprised and interested in what you choose to write about. And so well. This was one of those unexpected pieces. Thank you.

  3. It’s so strange to me the way life stories get intertwined with our personal stories. Such a sad day on two different fronts. One woman’s children will never see her again. One woman sent her daughter off, incredibly difficult, but she’d see her again . . .

  4. Beth Havey says:

    Meaningful post, Risa. As usual. Diana’s death will stick with me like other events in my life when we lose people we care about, though we don’t know them personally. We were at a summer baseball game when we heard. A few days later, during the funeral, we drove our daughter Christine back to Athens, Ohio where she was attending OU. Loss and yet gripping on to your own life, hoping for positive things for your own child. I silently mourned for Diana. Her life wasn’t all hers. And yet I think she would be proud of her sons.

  5. Marcia Cohen says:

    I remember it so well…my oldest child, Adam, had left for a pre-freshman camping experience on the Appalachian Trail & we met him on campus in the Boston area after his return. He looked different somehow, but maybe I was just so upset about having just learned about Diana’s tragic, premature death, that everything seemed different. We woke up very early to watch the funeral procession in London before going to help our son move into his Freshman dorm. One couldn’t help but be reminded very often in the following days how fragile & precious life is ….

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