Teen and her horse go away to college, parents struggle with empty nest

  • Brooke Griswold, of Leverett, and her mom, Lonnie, embrace during their “goodbye” as Brooke settles into her new home at the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Brooke Griswold, of Leverett, on her 6-year-old Quarter Horse, Guinness, before leaving for college in Ohio. Guinness took the trip with Brooke, who is studying western equestrian and equestrian business, and will be with her all semester. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Eighteen-year-old Brooke Griswold says “goodbye” to her father, Todd, as her parents and grandmother get ready to leave her at the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Brooke Griswold of Leverett stands with the University of Findlay mascot, Derrick the Oiler. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Brooke Griswold of Leverett hangs photos of her family as she settles in her dorm room at the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The entire family stands at the entrance to the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio after dropping their daughter/granddaughter off last week. In the back is Brooke Griswold’s maternal grandmother Beverly LaClaire. Brooke is flanked by her mom and dad, Lonnie and Todd Griswold. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/2/2019 10:39:52 PM

LEVERETT — While 18-year-old Brooke Griswold is settling into her first week of college, making new friends and realizing her life will never be the same, her parents are struggling at their home in Leverett with the realization that they are now empty-nesters.

Brooke is attending the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio. She is majoring in equestrian studies — and she’s not completely alone, because her 6-year-old Quarter Horse, Guinness, went with her. She said she’s going to miss her ponies, Kobi and Cosmo, and her dog, Blair, that she had to leave home, though.

“Guinness is my baby — he comforts me,” Brooke said. “He always knows how to put a smile on my face, and he senses when I’m sad. That’s what makes our bond so strong. That’s what will make the first year of college a little easier. It makes me feel better knowing if I need him, he’s here with me.”

Brooke said she decided to bring Guinness with her because she wanted to ride him regularly. She had been riding and showing him regularly at home for the past few years.

“He’s not perfect yet, so I’ll be riding him two hours a day, five days a week in the Findlay program,” she said. “The program is known for training the top horses with well-known trainers who will instruct me each day. After this year, I’ll be riding the university’s horses, or possibly horses that people send here to be trained.”

Brooke said Guinness will not be on campus all four years — only the first — but she will board him nearby so that she can visit or ride him each day. By next year, she hopes she’ll be more settled in and maybe not miss home as much, either.

What about the parents?

Brooke’s mother Lonnie, 47, said it was difficult to send her only child more than 700 miles and 12 hours away for the first time ever.

“We’ve been separated for very short periods of time, but not like this,” Lonnie said.

“I, her father and my mom (Beverly LaClaire) took her out to college a couple of weeks ago,” Lonnie said. “She went in her truck with her dad and horse, and my mom and I followed. We stayed for a few days to help her get settled.”

Brooke started classes last week and said that between them, campus activities, making new friends and spending plenty of time at the barn with Guinness, she’s keeping busy, and isn’t thinking about how much she misses her parents as much as she was afraid she would.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” Brooke said. “It was certainly overwhelming at first, but it was also amazing that I was meeting people from all over the world.”

Brooke, a 2019 graduate of Frontier Regional School, said her relationship with her mom has always been more like sisters, though there were many times Lonnie had to be the mom. She said they did just about everything together, so that will be difficult to let go.

“I probably won’t be back until Christmas,” Brooke said. “It’s hard not having my mom by my side.”

But Lonnie said she and Brooke’s father, Todd, will most likely travel to Findlay between now and then. Lonnie said she hopes they’ll be able to make it out there some time in October — Brooke’s birthday is Oct. 10. She said they may take another trip around Thanksgiving.

All three said “goodbye” was the most difficult for them.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Brooke said from her dorm room, while Lonnie and Todd echoed her feelings from their home last week.

Brooke and Lonnie talk on the phone every day, and don’t plan to stop that any time soon. Lonnie said life will change drastically for her, and while she will continue as a special education teacher with the Gill-Montague Regional School District, she said the off-hours will be lonely, at least at first.

“I went to all of Brooke’s horse shows and activities. We got our nails done together, went shopping together, I dragged her grocery shopping with me, we ate dinner — at the table — every night together, we worked out together, Lonnie said. “What a change this will be.”

Lonnie said Brooke was also accepted into the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a college in New York, but chose the farthest away, because it is the best for equestrian studies.

“It’s outstanding for western equestrian and equestrian business studies,” Lonnie said. “That’s what we wanted for her.”

Lonnie said she started thinking about her daughter leaving immediately after she graduated from high school in early June.

“I started preparing myself for a lot of ‘lasts,’” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘Boy, this is it. She’s going to be on her own from this point forward.’”

Lonnie said she would tear up about once a week all summer. She said the “goodbye” at Findlay was teary, but then she and Todd and her mother got in the car and didn’t start crying again until they hit the Massachusetts state line.

“I’m sure it was a reminder of the fact that we were coming home without her,” Lonnie said. “I know I raised a really good kid. She won’t go down the wrong path, I’m certain of that. She’s ready for this. Now, I have to be.”

She said her daughter was always a little shy, but she has seen her grow into a self-confident young woman. Lonnie and Todd said they told their daughter before they left that she should not go out at night alone, she should use the blue emergency phones on campus if she ever needs to and, above all, she should have a great time.

“We told her we’re a phone call away,” both of her parents said simultaneously.

Todd, an elevator technician, said the one piece of advice he would like to give other parents of children who haven’t left the nest yet is to love them with all their hearts, and take interest in and be as involved in their lives as possible, because this day comes too soon.

“Just support what they love,” he said.

Lonnie said she’s working on accepting her new life without Brooke physically in it every day.

“Life is different, quieter,” she said.

How to deal

According to the Mayo Clinic, if parents are experiencing feelings of loss due to empty nest syndrome, they should:

Accept the timing. Avoid comparing your child’s timetable to your own experience or expectations. Instead, focus on what you can do to help your child succeed when he or she does leave home.

Keep in touch. You can continue to be close to your children even when you live apart. Make an effort to maintain regular contact through visits, phone calls, emails, texts or video chats.

Seek support. If you’re having a difficult time dealing with an empty nest, lean on loved ones and other close contacts for support. Share your feelings.

Stay positive. Thinking about the extra time and energy you might have to devote to personal interests after your last child leaves home might help you adapt to this major life change.

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269
or afritz@recorder.com.

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