Two very special dates occurred recently – graduation of the class of 2012 on Friday (May 25), and Memorial Day last Monday (May 28) – one a joyous celebration of accomplishment, the other a heartfelt tribute to tremendous loss.
I attended graduation last Friday; once again a proud mother watched her daughter cross the stage and receive her diploma; once again the daughter ranking at the top of her class; once again a budding young woman is about to embark on her higher education adventures.
The emotions were so many, so mixed, and some so nameless….
I cried and laughed with her and our mutual friends, thrilled that she has achieved so much against some pretty stiff odds. Her younger sister will be walking across that same stage in only one year and then off to her college dreams, and I will feel these feelings once again.
I attended graduation six years ago, too. I watched my first daughter cross that stage. Joy and sorrow mixed as I witnessed my “baby” grow up. It was such a bright beginning with such a promising future for her… and it ended a mere two years later.
Again, those many, mixed, and often nameless emotions are stirred.
My youngest has “graduated” too this year. She will be moving into middle school as a sixth grader. Already? Wow. Mother’s worries abound as she takes this next, sometimes difficult step toward maturity.
I am filled with a parent’s perennial bittersweet mixed bag of feelings – proud and happy at her children’s successes and growth tumbled together with sorrow at time’s incredible speed of passage, and the loss of youth.
My joy in my children is indelibly tied to my loss; it cannot be otherwise unfortunately.
And that brings me to Memorial Day, observed a mere three days after graduation, the connection between the two closer for me than just the proximity on the calendar.
Memorial Day salutes those brave men and women who have fought for our country and died in that service. It’s a day to salute all veterans. It is a day to remember.
And so I remember. I think warmly of my father, who was a Marine pilot, flying Corsairs off an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific during World War II. I salute his service, but I also remember him, the loving, sweet, small man – who got so much smaller as he aged – who could make everyone in the room feel comfortable no matter where he was.
Dad has been gone more than six years, and I miss him every day. Dad and Mother could clear a dance floor – and often did – with their custom steps and stylized “Fox Trot.” And then I remember Mother too, gone now 11 years, and how much I miss her, my first and best friend.
Which brings me back around to parenting, children’s growth, my personal growth, and these many graduations.
Graduation marks the end of an era for both child and parent. It marks the closing of one door, and the opening of the next – the inescapable passage of time and the headlong flight into the future. It marks the point where parents have to let go a little – or a lot – whether its promotion into middle school, graduation from high school, or – in about four years – graduation from college. Each time, Mom and/or Dad have to release their hold a bit more. It’s a hard but necessary thing to do. Love and loss….
I remember explaining to my daughter Abigail, when she was very small, that love is a very strange thing. It’s one of the only things in the world that the more you give away, the more you have. I am so grateful for the love I have “given away,” and for the continual expansion of my heart as I get so much back.
Congratulations graduates! Here’s to all our futures!