Navigating Love, Loss, and Graduation
It’s said that we never truly get over grief. We just learn how to go through it.
Next month, it will be six years since we lost my mother-in-law, and I know this to be true. No matter how much time goes by, you never really get over the loss of someone you love. Grief, being the unrelenting little fellow that it is, enjoys rearing its ugly head at the most inopportune times. Very often it sneaks up on you like a thief in the night, out of the blue, when you least expect it. For example, I’ve been completely consumed with my oldest son’s high school graduation at the end of this week. If you’ve already been there, then you know that you don’t have much bandwidth to consider any thoughts or feelings other than those related to your baby closing a big chapter of their life. Like any other mom, I’ve had so many emotions. I’ve been happy, excited, tired, anxious, sad, and nostalgic. I’ve been so busy that I’ve barely had time to breathe let alone process all of it. Lately, I’ve been running on auto pilot. And then a bump in the road…that old familiar grief comes to call.
It makes sense if you think about it. It’s just that I’ve been so busy, I haven’t really had time to think. Maybe that’s why it took me by surprise. But of course, this is a big life event. My son’s graduation marks the closing of a chapter in our life, and it signifies the beginning of many new adventures for him. He’s shaking childhood off like dust from his shoes and slowly wading into the waters of adulthood. And, my mother-in-law should be here. She just should. Don’t get me wrong, I believe whole-heartedly that God works all things for our good, yes, even the hard things. And sure, I can say all the right words, like, “I’m so glad we had her here for as long as we did,” and “she’s never really gone, her memory lives on,” and “she’s here with us in spirit.” I do believe all of this. Most days my belief in God and these words are comforting. But they aren’t now. Right now, I’m angry. I’m sad. And, I feel like my kids were cheated. Anthony should have his grandmother here to see him walk that stage. Karen should be here with me laughing, pacing the floors, and chewing on her fingernails like she always did when she was nervous before a big event. I can hear her voice so clearly, and I know just what she’d say: “Can you even imagine little Anthony Stillwell graduating from high school? Where did the time go?”
Where did the time go?
I pose that question to myself and others a lot these days. And I wrestle with the fact that Karen has been gone for six years. (If you’re reading this and you’re my age and in this season of life, I’m guessing you ask this same question. And, I’m guessing by this point, you’re also dealing with the loss of someone you loved in one way or another.) Let’s face it. The older we get, the more loss we will experience. Karen left us when Anthony was just 13-years-old, still in middle school. There are so many years, so many events she missed. She doted on her three grandchildren with ferocious love. They were everything to her, and she’d walk across hot coals to be there for them.In fact, the last thing she said to me through a grief-stricken voice as she sobbed was, “Are you sure the boys won’t forget me? They’re still so young.” I responded with a steadfast, heartbroken promise, “Of course they won’t, I will never let that happen.” And I won’t. I will never let my boys forget her. They have pictures. They have memories. And they have me reminding them at each life event, grandparents’ day, the big game, prom, and yes even graduation, how proud their grandmother would be of them and how much she loved them. At the end of this week, when Anthony walks across that stage, I’ll be reminding him again. I’ll be speaking Karen’s name. I’ll hug him and I’ll smile and pray he feels her loving presence, even if for a fleeting moment.