At the news of the tragic deaths of the Irish students in Berkeley, I had to walk outside and gasp for breath.
Many of my youngest son's friends are in California on holiday. They liked it so much on their J1 visa that they went back at 23.
It would be typical to be at a party every night.
My heart goes out to the parents of those intrepid young people who have lost their lives. They are still babies to us, though they've gone through the Leaving Cert, filled in the impenetrable CAO forms and got a place in college.
The great adventure that is the J1 journey has left me in tears the last few years. It is the first big letting-go.
The special work-holiday visa was introduced by USIT founder, the late Gordon Colleary, and has a legendary place in the lives of Irish graduates.
It is a rite of passage and you have to let them go once, twice, even three times. Parents of students who have just finished the Leaving Cert and are cringing at the thought of the post-exam holiday in Magaluf will soon have the J1 to address.
There is a sort of routine where they go inter-railing after first year, do the J1 trip to Canada (because of the drinking age limit in the US) in second year or a Thai holiday, and the J1 to the USA in the third year.
After all the online form-filling, visits to the gardaí, the embassy and USIT, they finally get organised.
Then it's time to go to the 'Bank of Mother'. My youngest son opted to do his first J1 at 17 and go to Vancouver alone, after his Leaving Cert.
Thanks to Viber he could phone to report that his room on campus had no bed linen. Not long after that, he was duped into a phone package that didn't work.
Minor disasters, of course, and he eventually got a job as a waiter. That was a long summer of worry with several more minor disaster phone calls.
On his second J1 to New York, he and 10 others went off to find work in the Hamptons.
I warned him I wasn't going to be on stand-by for every emergency, and the day before he left, I asked where he was going to be staying. "I've rented a house from Sotheby's," he said.
When I picked myself up off the floor, I just had to worry about losing my own house when the estate agent tracked me down.
All that summer I couldn't contact him, as he had lost his phone. Every week I would get in touch with other parents to see if they'd heard how they were getting on.
My eldest son preferred to spend his summers working in Ireland, so much so that I insisted he go on a J1 in case he would regret it in later life. Off he went to Boston, rented a room with five others and was home in a few weeks, having decided it was a waste of time trying to find work. It's not up everyone's street.
The J1 visa wasn't that popular when I was younger because it is expensive up-front and we were in a recession without really knowing it in the 1980s. So I took off to Australia for a year instead.
During the boom years, the J1 became popular again. Post-graduates can still avail of it within two years of finishing their degree. So now the youngest, at 23, is going on his third trip in a few weeks, this time for a year.
You would think that I am used to it by now.
He recently lost his passport, in his bedroom. I dread to think of the absence and the distance, and after today, like many parents, I will wreck his head with warnings.
Many Europeans have told me that we Irish 'over-parent'. As I don't know any other way, perhaps we do. Our country is so small (and expensive), our children tend not to move away at 17.
So when they first bring up the J1 plans, you think "it's only for two months", they'll be with a group they know, and they should be OK.
Sadly, for the parents of the students in Berkeley, the worst nightmare has happened.
All over Ireland, mothers and fathers will feel their collective loss - it could be any of us. We stand by them in their grief.
Today, I am sure there are parents who want to tear up visas and tickets and pay their children to stay home for the summer. I don't blame them.
"When the balcony was falling down, we thought it was an earthquake, and a really big earthquake. It was shaking my window. It was kind of like the building was falling down."
Silvia Biswas, who lives on the third floor of Library Gardens
"They were all trying to notify parents, and things like that. They were trying to figure out from each other who was on the balcony and what their condition was."
Jerry Robinson, who lives nearby
"Today is an horrific day for those who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances in San Francisco and for all those affected."
Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Foreign Affairs
"I am opening a Book of Condolence to allow the people of Dublin to express their sympathies to the families and friends of those who died in this terrible tragedy."
Christy Burke, Lord Mayor of Dublin
"All of us at the United States Embassy are greatly saddened by news of this tragic incident and are ready to do whatever we can to assist the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs at this difficult time."
Kevin O'Malley, US Ambassador to Ireland
"The Irish community has been very, very supportive. We're getting nothing but help from everyone."
Kevin Byrne, Ireland's vice consul in San Francisco
"It's a difficult scene. Unfortunately it's going to be a more difficult day for the family of the victims that were involved in this."
Jennifer Coates, Berkeley police spokeswoman
"My heart goes out to the families of the Irish students who died tragically in Berkeley early today. Hearing news like this about a loved one far away would be any parent's worst nightmare."
Tánaiste Joan Bruton.
**Anyone with concerns about friends or family in the region should call the Emergency Consular Response Team on 01 4180200