Last Goodbye

She drops her daughter off at the dormitory this afternoon. This is it. This is the big moment. Mom promised her daughter she wouldn’t completely lose it. That was the deal.

Mom and Daughter have spent the last week packing, unpacking, lifting, moving, climbing endless stairs, and decorating a dorm room with cheap junk from the clearance aisle of TJ Maxx. And now it has come down to this.

“Goodbye, Lindsey,” says Mom.

“Bye, Mom,” says Lindsey, throwing open the door to the SUV and leaping out.

Leaping. As though the girl can’t wait to be gone.

Mom throws the car into Park and reminds herself again not to cry. No crying today.

The middle-aged woman steps out of the vehicle and her heart is throbbing. Her baby is leaving, and the aforementioned baby has no idea what kind of dangerous world this really is. All the kid thinks about is fun.

College freshmen are children. Make no mistake. We give them responsibility. We give them driver’s licenses. We give them bank accounts and perfect autonomy. But the reality is they haven’t even finished puberty.

“Do you have your phone charger?” says Mom.

“I got it.”

“Because your last one broke.”

“I have a new one.”

“Lindsey. You can’t have a dead phone.”


“I mean it. Keep your phone charged.”


Who will remind this child to do her laundry regularly? My God, has this girl ever done a load of laundry? At home the child leaves her dirty clothes on the floor for the Laundry Fairy. Now she’ll be in charge of her own hamper.

“Do you have enough quarters for the washing machine?”

“Yes. You gave me, like, a hundred, Mom.”

“How about your gas card?”

Eye roll. “Quit worrying.”

Who is going to make sure this child has enough gas in her Nissan? Who is going to remind this infant never to let her tank fall below a quarter?

Mom fixes her daughter’s hair. There are a few strands out of place. And it dawns on Mom that she will no longer touch her daughter’s hair like this each morning. She’s been touching her daughter’s hair for eighteen years. No more.

Mom starts to get teary, but she chokes them back. A deal is a deal.

There comes a point when a parent has done their best. They’ve taught their kid everything they know. They’ve taught them to not lie, cheat or steal or chew with their mouth open. They’ve reminded them to change the dorm sheets every Friday because clean sheets are next to Godliness. They’ve taught them that a bar of soap costs less than the price of embarrassment.

Now it’s go time.

Mom notices the freshmen and sophomores wandering around campus wearing looks of giddiness. Then she thinks about the pandemic, and this gives Mom a pang of fear because the world is different than it used to be.

Very different. When Mom was a kid, there were no deadly viruses, no worldwide epidemics, no fear of public places, no fist-bumps. There were no such things as hand sanitizer, no delta variants. “Delta” was the name of a castmember from “Designing Women,” and “Corona” was sipped at the beach.

The worst thing most mothers had to fear back then was MTV. It was a different era. Little kids still walked to baseball practice alone. Children rode bikes without helmets and sat in the front passenger seats of cars and ate obscene amounts of refined sugar.

Mom’s parents never had to deal with this level of fear. Mom’s parents just put their kids on a bus with some milk money and said “See ya.” But the world isn’t like that anymore. And Mom’s realizing this.

“Text me whenever you have time,” says Mom, biting her lower lip.


“You can’t text me too much, Lindsey.”


“Please remember to take your vitamin C, it helps your immune system stay strong.”


“You’d better hurry for orientation.”

“Bye, Mom.”

And the girl leaves.

The child wanders into the dormitory while Mom waves goodbye, her heart is shattering into talcum powder. Her daughter disappears through the front doors, and that’s it. The end. It’s over now.

You give a kid the best eighteen years of your life—the prime of your youth—and the kid just walks away. They don’t look back. They don’t even worry about you. They just leave.

Mom turns to make the long walk back to her car. She’s reminding herself to breathe. She’s reminding herself not to be anxious.

When she reaches her car she just stands there for a while, thinking about the child’s first steps in the backyard. She’s thinking about all the Playskool toys that once littered the living room. She’s thinking about French braids, Captain Crunch, soccer tournaments, and prom.

She is about to crawl into her front seat when she sees a reflection in her window. The reflection of a young woman. She turns to see her daughter standing behind her.

“Mom,” says the emotional girl. “I’m gonna miss you so much.”

And all deals were off.


  1. Donna Bell - August 24, 2021 9:37 am

    As a mother, I can tell you, you nailed this one Sean! Twenty four years ago this momma cried all the way back to Inlet Beach after leaving her 18 year old son in Pensacola. I’m amazed that a man with no children so perfectly described the heart, and heartache, of a mother. Thanks again for sharing your beautiful talent.

  2. Amanda - August 24, 2021 10:06 am

    Amen and ditto to Donna’s comments. Great essay and timely!

  3. Dana Blackwood - August 24, 2021 10:22 am

    Dadgummit Sean, really!? Now I’m there again, crying thinking about it.

  4. Susa - August 24, 2021 10:28 am

    It’s even worse when your child deploys with the military.

  5. Jean Moseley - August 24, 2021 10:54 am

    You really captured that moment!

  6. Hester Guest - August 24, 2021 11:36 am

    Loved this! You got this message across perfectly. Being an empty nester is no fun! Great job!

  7. Jill - August 24, 2021 11:56 am

    So true. The older I got the wiser my mom got.

  8. Jan - August 24, 2021 12:01 pm

    Wow, so true that it hurts…

  9. Karen - August 24, 2021 12:12 pm

    That is exactly how I felt leaving our daughter on campus. Such a hurt in my heart but so excited for her.

  10. Molly - August 24, 2021 12:16 pm

    Your words! All deals are off!!😍

  11. Karen Davis - August 24, 2021 12:35 pm

    I am ugly crying at the memories this brings back of taking our grandson to leave for boot camp. Same feelings. Your talent is amazing.

  12. Bill Malone - August 24, 2021 12:42 pm

    Beautiful. 🙂

  13. Kathy - August 24, 2021 1:09 pm

    Oh, my gosh! You captured it! Thanks.

  14. mccutchen52 - August 24, 2021 1:17 pm

    As a father, for some reason, everyone thinks we just got in the car and left. I did but stopped at fast food place and drowned my sorrows in a milkshake.

  15. Megan E Gary - August 24, 2021 1:19 pm


  16. Martin - August 24, 2021 1:21 pm

    It’s not just mothers. When we dropped my daughter off at college for the first time, it was like being stabbed in chest repeatedly. It gets easier with time, but never completely stops and I hope that it never does.

  17. Pam Ratliff - August 24, 2021 1:57 pm

    You got me with this one. I lost my college senior in April to this horrible virus. This morning I dropped my special needs high school senior off for his first on campus day in over a year. He doesn’t comprehend fear. He doesn’t know personal space. He just knows he misses his routine and that mama will be there to get him when he’s done and she will have the mandatory treat (he stressed this). I know the horrors and the worst case scenario. He just knows his brother never comes home anymore. It’s a different world.

    • Joann Thompson - August 24, 2021 3:50 pm

      My condolences for your great loss. I do try to remind myself that at least my children and all but one of my grandchildren can still come for visits. I lost my oldest grandson to a drug overdose last December.

    • Peggy ALEXANDER - August 24, 2021 8:12 pm

      So sorry Pam

  18. Cathy Cooke - August 24, 2021 2:14 pm

    I felt, all over again, what I did when we dropped off our son over 20 years ago. I still remember feeling the hole in my heart. And yet, I managed to hold it together reading this, until your last sentence. Yep, all deals are off.

  19. Gayle Wilson - August 24, 2021 2:21 pm

    Been there and done that with two and it was not easy. Not easy thinking about it even to this day and they are in their 40s! Sean, you have such a way to weave stories into the magic of life. Thank you.

  20. Suellen - August 24, 2021 2:36 pm

    Our leave taking was a little different. We moved more than 200 miles away for my husband to attend Seminary and left our youngest daughter here to go to college but the feelings are all the same. She is now an adult with kids of her own and we’ve moved back home so she can help take care of us. One particular line here really hit me. One visit a couple of years ago my adult daughter sat down in front of me like she used to so many years ago and I was able to run my fingers through her hair like when she was little. Something so simple but I still feel emotional thinking about it.

  21. Rikki - August 24, 2021 3:06 pm

    Holy cow! I’ve been in this exact spot….many years ago but can still remember the joy, pain, fear and excitement. Maybe not all in that order…..

  22. Linda Moon - August 24, 2021 3:13 pm

    The deal with a daughter. I remember mine, and I lost it. But she found a future for herself even though I still missed her at times. And now, after some years of “missing”, it’s all good…and it will be for Mom and Lindsay, too!

  23. Nancy Brown - August 24, 2021 3:21 pm

    Truer than you know Sean. As a mother and grandmother it is an adventure in emotions.

  24. Lucinda Harding - August 24, 2021 3:32 pm

    Yes, been down that road. My daughter is 43 with her own precious son and we still tell each other EVERY day that we love each other. You’ve started many of my mornings recently with teary eyes. Missing my mother, thinking of your sweet Jamie, losing her MM and knowing what she must be going through, then you hit with this. Love your stories but wow they sure come with emotional baggage for me. But reflection, even bittersweet, is good for the soul.

  25. Joann Thompson - August 24, 2021 3:46 pm

    What a perfect example of how a mother (and grandmother) feels letting go of their precious children. I can only add the empty feeling that is in my heart every time they walk out the door from that point on, because they truly are gone even when they come home for a visit.. We have to fill the hours somehow, so we begin to volunteer, pray more, and try not to let them see or hear the sadness in our faces and voices when we talk to them. Letting go is so hard, but we must, both for their sake and ours.

  26. Bill Henderson - August 24, 2021 3:59 pm

    Simply worth framing….period.

  27. Christina - August 24, 2021 4:08 pm

    How do you capture these moments so well, Sean?! I’m hugging my tweens tighter today.

  28. Mm Tiller - August 24, 2021 4:55 pm

    Dear Sean, How did you know? (of course, all deals are off at that point.) Thanks. Mom-of-four.
    p.s. they usually DON’T wave good-bye. and that is okay. They have been reared to be fearless, even as Mom prays.

  29. Rick - August 24, 2021 5:03 pm

    The best gifts a parent can give to a child are roots and wings.

  30. Mary - August 24, 2021 5:21 pm

    Back in ’84 I was doing the same thing but her tears were for leaving her boyfriend. Now with an almost 28 and 23 yrs old that’s past. But I still feel the same way when she goes back home and leaves me, never knowing at 85 if and when it will be for the last time. I love you “babe”, always.

  31. Kathi harper-hill - August 24, 2021 6:00 pm

    When we dropped our daughter off first day of college, all we saw was a tearful child waving good-bye. We got out of sight and my husband pulled over. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I think I’m gonna throw up.” He said. It was awful.

  32. Jim Rose - August 24, 2021 7:40 pm

    One of the best you have ever done, Sean.

  33. Pat Alfrey - August 24, 2021 8:01 pm

    While you were writing about your sweet mother-in-law I knew I would be shedding tears. I would wake every day to check the status of things before going about my life. You captured the beauty of your family with your words. I cried and laughed as you shared memories. But then today I read your story and I lost it entirely! Ugly crying someone else described! My son and daughter-in-law (who I live with) just went through this experience with their baby girl. Very emotional time and I think I needed your words to allow myself to actually let go. You are a very special young man! Do not stop writing!!!

  34. LauraD - August 24, 2021 8:08 pm

    Mothers and fathers sending their children off into their next great adventure praying that all of life’s lessons will kick in when necessary. Mothers and fathers returning home to the nearly empty bedroom with sentimental reminders in every nook and cranny. You certainly did nail the drop off day, the last hug my son gave me just before we drove away meant the world to me and the tears flowed. It is such a strange, sad and exhilarating time for all.

  35. Peggy ALEXANDER - August 24, 2021 9:09 pm

    Some people have to see their children and grandchildren walk out of the court room to prison😢😢Now THAT is 😞 for a parent and grand parent

  36. MAM - August 24, 2021 9:15 pm

    My experience with our first-born was completely different, except for the packing, unpacking, and moving part. We lived overseas and the other daughter and dad had returned. I took the elder daughter to her dorm and moved her in. Her roommate showed up, and daughter said: “Bye, Mom,” and started talking to the new roommate. Mom headed back to the rented car and drove off. Yes, Mom shed some tears, but she didn’t see daughter cry. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. This was and still is the completely in charge now-doctor daughter who doesn’t flinch even when in the ER taking care of patients. Always and still confident at age 50. Wow, that dorm room was a long time ago.

  37. Karen Snyder - August 24, 2021 10:36 pm

    Remembering sending my eldest off to boot camp, and then the second off to college. We teach them to fly and, not knowing when we send them off what life circumstances, economics, and distances would factor into the equation over time, we are left, years later, somewhat wistful that they learned so well. I am beyond grateful whenever I see one of mine, but visits are never soon enough or long enough.

  38. Debbie g - August 24, 2021 11:12 pm

    Our daughter told me and her father. “Y’all did a good job. I’ve got this”. Out of the mouth of our babes ❤️❤️❤️Much love to us all

  39. Patsy W-S - August 25, 2021 4:54 pm

    Sean, This is so spot-on. We just dropped our daughter off at LSU last week. This describes our experience to the “t.” Thank you for your beautiful stories and sharing your life with us. I am so sorry about the loss of Mother Mary. Peace be with you.

  40. Melanie Denmon - August 25, 2021 5:50 pm

    Sean, this is such a beautiful story. I love all of them.

  41. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - August 25, 2021 5:55 pm

  42. Kate Medina Writes - August 26, 2021 10:59 am

    Sean – We leave tomorrow to take my oldest daughter four hours away to college. I’ve cried no less than a thousand times this summer, knowing that goodbye is on the horizon. What a privilege and pure joy it’s been these last 18 years. They say that trust is leaning the weight of your life on God…and that’s exactly what we are doing. Thanks for weaving words that give language to this mama’s heart.

  43. Cynthia Cowling - August 26, 2021 10:52 pm


  44. Kit - August 27, 2021 8:32 pm

    It’s just like this, exactly. The worst is when she gets desperately homesick while you’re still on the way home, driving up the interstate through Atlanta in a hellish rainstorm that has to be the beginning of an unexpected hurricane. Lightning strikes, sweet baby girl cries, “Please come get me”, and it takes every molecule of willpower not to turn around and go back.

  45. Mary Coley - September 6, 2021 6:00 am



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