My sobs interrupted the sound of silence. As my husband and I prepared to take our son to college, I walked into his room for one last check. It appeared so empty. I noticed the absence of his blue comforter and the school supplies on his desk. But as I slowly scanned around, the red graduation gown hanging in his closet caught my eye. A whirlwind of emotions poured out through my tears. It symbolizes so much more than a rite of passage and transition for all of us.
It tells a story about our relationship. One involving interruptions, hard things, and grief.
A few weeks before his graduation, I was involved in a horrible car accident. As I drove home from church on Mother’s Day, my car was struck by a driver who blew through a red light. As I have told my kids, and as they have witnessed before, life can change in an instant. And it did. I sustained severe injuries. A hospital became my home during those last three weeks of his senior year.
This interruption altered my vision for the way I saw this season of life unfold: for him and for me. He is the youngest of my three children. He came to the last weeks of his senior year after already riding the unpredictable rhythms of schooling during a pandemic. In fact, we rode them together. Literally. I often substitute taught at his school. I understood not all teens would be happy with that arrangement, but he enjoyed bumping into me in the hallways. Our short car rides offered an opportunity to have impromptu engagement.
I felt fortunate to share his world, knowing that this season was all too brief. But it ended abruptly.
As I became more alert, my fragile health was not the focus of my attention. Instead, I pondered, worried, and grieved. He needed to push through the last month, but he carried the emotions that began the moment he arrived with my husband at the emergency room. I wanted him to enjoy the memories of celebration that come as graduation approaches, so I tried to encourage him through phone calls. I nudged him to become vulnerable with teachers.
In the midst though, I grieved for all the things I deemed important that I was missing with him. The most important question pulsed through my being, What if I couldn’t attend his graduation?
Apparently, my son saw a glimpse of a bigger picture than I did. One that involved the recognition that life can change in a minute, but those interruptions don’t define a lifetime.
As I looked at him through teary eyes, I attempted to explain that I may not be released before his graduation. He looked at me with gentle eyes and a peaceful spirit and in his wisdom replied, “Mom, there will be other celebrations.” He found solace in the fact that I was alive. Although I still longed to see it in person, my foggy eyes witnessed something more important than graduation.
My discharge from the hospital happened on the day before his graduation. I savored the moment he processed in while donning his red gown and honors cords. They represented so much more than academic achievement. They told a story about encountering and walking forward in unexpected territory.
Although I missed sharing in his school milestones, we made new ones together. We did car rides together, but this time it was to doctor’s appointments and errands. I didn’t drive, he did. The reversal of roles was humbling.
Yet, it allowed me to see glimpses of his character that parents aren’t always privy to until later.
Impromptu conversations about deep things as well as humorous ones filled the unfamiliar space. Trips through the drive-thrus of our favorite places provided comfortable rhythms. However, this role was not what either of us envisioned in this season in life.
There are no guarantees what will transpire during these years of raising our kids. Life can change in a blink. So many events present themselves uninvited into family moments: terminal and chronic illness, divorce, job loss, financial challenges, trauma, death, and oppression. Yet, we forge through them together. Sometimes the consequences unfold in beautiful rhythmic moments of bonding. Other times, it looks like bearing with one another in the chaotic ways we process trauma differently.
My sobs became wordless sounds communicating all I felt about this day.
I grieved this transition in our home. The sounds, movements, and routines changed. I celebrate the unexpected blessings we experienced this summer while the unknown still lingers in the air.
As I leaned against his closet door, I touched the gown and remembered our story. We both carry it with us in this new season. But I am thankful for God who doesn’t allow the hard things to have the last word. I feel fortunate to witness that my son recognizes that, too.