I have been an emotional mess this last week. I can’t necessarily pinpoint why. Maybe it has just been a while since I’ve had a good cry. Maybe I have just had terrible PMS. Or maybe it’s because I’m just overwhelmed. Michael would likely say “Holy PMS, Batgirl!” But my guess it is the combination of all those things.
Plus, I have been thinking a lot about the Class of 2020. This past Mothers’ Day weekend most colleges would have had commencement. And we are looking now to the weeks of high school graduations, 5th grade graduations, and all of the other festivities that happen at the end of each year. But this year is different. This year, we aren’t going to see the mass of students walking across the stage, getting their diplomas or having end of year parties. Large family gatherings to celebrate graduates, their accomplishments, and cheers as they look to their futures won’t happen as life in quarantine continues.
I know there is disappointment in not celebrating in the ways we have hoped for the Class of 2020. The journey to accomplishment is typically not a solo endeavor. We, as parents, have accomplished just as much helping our children get to their destinations—being their cheerleaders, coaches, and greatest supporters. We cry for our children’s sadness, but also for our own.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time I won’t get to see one of my children graduate… It’s the second.
The Preschool Class of 2017, graduated without Charlie. His friends all processed into the church sanctuary, cameras rolling, little certificates handed out, and sweet sounds of 5 year-olds singing for the last time as preschoolers. Afterward, a school picnic and lots of ‘goodbyes!’ and ‘good luck!’ exchanged between little friends and teachers. We witnessed graduation that year, Michael and I, seated in a pew, but not with Charlie, at least not the way we wished for. He died, just one month before.
Seeing families in celebration for the children, while we were in mourning over the loss of ours was tough, really really tough. As Michael and I sat, attempting to watch Charlie’s classmates, I imagined where he would have been standing. Would it have been beside his buddy Graham or little Hadley? Would he have been nervous? Probably not, just excited to be with his class and even more excited for the bounce house to follow. These were his friends, his buddies, all moving on, given the chance to grow up and look ahead to more milestones, more graduations, and more accomplishments. While our Charlie’s life had abruptly stopped.
It has been exactly 3 years since that day, the day we were spectators instead of participants in Charlie’s Preschool Graduation.
And now, it is Ellie’s turn to graduate, the Preschool Class of 2020. The last 5 months we have been holding our breath, as Ellie turned 5 and the same age Charlie died. We hoped and prayed she would make it to this day, to sing with her classmates in celebration while we sit in the pew, beaming with joy.
But she, like her brother, won’t get that experience. She will not process into the church sanctuary with cameras rolling, singing with her sweet friends for the last time as preschoolers. She will not be presented with her certificate, surrounded by her classmates, signifying the end of toddlerhood and the beginning of childhood. And she won’t get to say her goodbyes and good lucks over a picnic lunch and bounce houses in the church courtyard.
And it makes me sad. It makes me sad for Ellie, but also for me. As insignificant it may seem, it was a milestone, one that we never got with Charlie, but were hopeful to have with her.
But the difference is, Ellie is still here.
We went to Charlie’s preschool graduation without our son, a celebration that was meant to mark the accomplishments of one phase of his life and the beginning of another. Charlie never got to celebrate his accomplishments, nor start that next phase. But Ellie will, regardless of a ceremony.
You see, graduations, while wonderful, are just ceremonies. The accomplishments have already been achieved, and the futures already in motion. Having our children, and witnessing them as they have met those milestones are far more important than pomp and circumstance and the movement of a tassel from the right side to the left.
I’m still disappointed Ellie won’t get the experience of a preschool graduation, but I realize the accomplishments and the memories she has made in the last 4 years won’t disappear. And above all, I am so grateful she is here and we will witness her life’s next chapter.
So let us not taint the joy we have for our 2020 Graduates with sadness of unfulfilled experiences. Let us be thankful for their accomplishments, and their futures. Because even though commencement ceremonies aren’t happening this year, their lives are. And that is something truly worth celebrating.