Recently, Germ received an email from one of our readers whose sister just went off to college. As many of us with close siblings can understand, this Germie is greatly missing her sister and asked for some advice for dealing with the separation. So, Jennifer, this one’s for you — and for the rest of you who may be going through something similar.

Reading through Jennifer’s email took me back to my early teens when my brother and sister both left for college the same summer. My siblings, or “the big kids” as my family deemed them, are only 16 months apart in age and were almost always in the same school and group of friends. I am the baby of the family by four (and a half) years, but we’ve always been a tight-knit family due to the constant moving the Air Force put us through.

So imagine the toll it took in the summer of 2005 when my sister had graduated high school and my brother was ready to start at a real-life, brick-and-mortar school. We flew to the States, rented a car, and drove through 16 states in 13 days, losing 2/5 of our family along the way. We got back the day before I started high school. (And this is all without mentioning that 2 months later my dad would be deployed to Afghanistan, leaving it down to only me, my mom, and the world’s most chill dog.) Our once bustling house full of joy and laughter (and, yes, some fights) had gone all but silent.

Now, I am someone who can and does get unbelievably into a holiday season, so understand the gravity when I say that Christmas could not come soon enough.

Here’s where I’m torn in writing this for you all. I don’t want to negate the feelings that I had — because it was difficult, and it will be for you as well. I was sad. I was lonely. There was a void that my mom and friends couldn’t fill. However, I don’t want you to go away thinking that’s all there is. Life hasn’t stopped, and you have to soldier on through your days. Some days it will feel exactly that way, and others will come easier (don’t let that make you feel guilty; just be thankful). It’s honestly a lot like mourning when you realize a person, a staple in your life, isn’t readily accessible like they once were. But we march on. Our biggest challenge is in finding the best way to cope.

In many ways we are extremely fortunate to live in the generation of smartphones. Most of us can make the time for a phone call or FaceTime. We had just discovered Skype around the time my brother and sister left. Thank you, Internet! It’s nice to know that our loved ones can be reached pretty easily on our various devices. But not everyone is so lucky, and time zones can get tricky, so you might try out some more low-tech ideas.

On big test days, or when school had too much quiet downtime, my sister and I used to write each other long boring notes about, well, nothing really, just whatever was on our minds (this was before we had phones and well before unlimited texting or Twitter). Maybe whenever you think of something you want to share or think of a funny story, you write it out for your loved one. Then, once you have a few, you can send them all along in a care package. As a former college student, let me tell you that care packages are the best! Don’t forget the sugar rush.

Also, once when I was missing my sister, I found an old teddy bear who was holding a drawstring pouch. I typed up a bunch of our inside jokes — of which there were many — cut them into individual strips, and put them in the bear’s pouch. That way, whenever she was lonely, she could pull out a slip of paper and remember some silly thing we’d done. Usually this ended with her calling me so we could laugh together. You might even make two copies and put them in a jar for yourself. Make it a two-way street!

There are undoubtedly countless other things you could do to bridge the geographical gap between you and your loved one — things that are more suited to you and more personalized from you. I’m sorry I can’t give you all the answers; I truly wish I could. It may take some trial and error, and it will most likely mean making it through some low days. The best advice I can give you is to:

1) Feel your feelings. Yes, absolutely, please do. But also…

2) Don’t let those feelings incapacitate you. You’ve still got a lot ahead of you, and those things aren’t going away, and they aren’t going to wait.

You’ll get through this, I promise. And to make up for my lack of answers, I’ve made this playlist for you. Take an hour or so, listen to the songs, feel bad, feel sad, feel lonely, whatever feelings you feel, then get going. You can do it.

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