Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

June 14, 2013

Weathering the milestones

— — Monday was the longest day I can remember. It was graduation day at our local high school. But my graduate wasn’t there.

We all probably try to prepare ourselves for days, experiences, encounters or milestones that we know may be difficult. But it’s impossible to predict how something will affect you.

It started long before Monday. I had taken a Facebook vacation because it was painful to see the postings and pictures from proud parents across the country — the rainbow of different colored cap and gowns from here to California and all points in between. Newly minted graduates, some whose names and faces I didn’t even know personally, just left me aching for the one I didn’t have.

The graduation announcements, the invitations to grad parties, the ceremonies that would offer inspirational speeches to shiny hope-filled faces — these were events and moments in time deserving of celebration but I couldn’t even walk near a greeting card aisle.

However, this void in my heart doesn’t drain the pride I feel for the many teens I know who graduated, all of them friends of my daughter who bonded with us over the last year. I picture each one in two different states and feel joy and excitement for them and their families.

Some of them battled hard to get that diploma while some of them were ranked near the very top of their class. All of them have weathered emotional storms during their high school years — some just light summer thundershowers while others survived dangerous, almost deadly squalls. I’m most proud of the ones who had to struggle academically or emotionally to walk across that stage.

To be honest, I feel bad feeling so bad for myself and my family while everyone else is celebrating. I wish I didn’t have to personalize it but that’s impossible. It was hard for my friends — they were thinking about us as they planned their parties, graciously accepted my declining RSVP, and honored their well-deserving senior. It’s hard to feel like the wet blanket hovering over the happy day. But our friends were compassionate and sensitive and quick with a hug.

My daughter’s school handed out two different bracelets in the school’s colors in her honor and in honor of another student who passed away the year before her. The bracelets bore their first names and the phrase that became a memorial for them both: “Always in our hearts.”

The principal spoke to the gathering at the ceremony and explained they wanted to remember two students who were not among the graduates physically but, she assumed, were there in spirit. All the teachers, staff and graduates were wearing the two bracelets. School administrators told us they were going to do something and invited us to attend. Although we appreciated the gesture and it meant a great deal that they remembered her, we just couldn’t come.

I couldn’t imagine being in the arena among a sea of caps and gowns without that dark hair and high wattage smile among them. I couldn’t imagine being there to hear the silence between the names Desch and DeSouza. I couldn’t imagine hearing Pomp and Circumstance while 454 students marched by, knowing that the 455th wouldn’t pass.

“I know it won’t be this hard at next year’s graduation,” I said to my friend on the phone the next day.

“No,” she answered, “and this is really the last milestone where her absence is so evident with a big group of her friends.” She explained that it won’t be like that when they go off to college in the fall because they leave at different times or some take a gap year and don’t leave at all.

“They won’t all graduate from college at the same time either,” I answered. “And some will go to graduate school. Then they marry at different times, if they get married. Have kids at different times.”

It was with relief that I understood this may be the last time that I watch from the outside during a momentous occasion that involves all her peers. This may be the last time I feel the void she left behind consume the space crowded by her friends.

One of the ways I’ve been able to manage the loss is to not think too far into the future, not think about every milestone we will miss for the rest of our lives. But I did this time, long enough to recognize that it will be different from here on out. The pain may be just as intense but I can pace myself and know that it will ebb and flow throughout my life.

Two days after graduation I slipped into yoga late and grabbed the last spot. A young girl was to my left. About 20 minutes into class I noticed her hand on her mat. She was wearing two bracelets with the familiar silver, black and white colors. It made me smile to see my daughter’s name on this stranger’s wrist, to see this “coincidence.” After class I asked her, “Did you graduate Monday?”

“Yes,” she answered with a big smile.

“Congratulations!” I said with my own big smile as I rolled up my mat and left.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

 

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