I am very blessed to be the mother of two Spring 2013 graduates; my son is graduating from medical school and my daughter from college. That's the good news. The not-so-good news? They graduate on the same day. At the same time. In cities almost 5 hours apart.
When we -- my son, daughter, and I -- first learned of the scheduling conflict, my daughter immediately said that I should go to her brother's graduation because this is his "last graduation" and she is continuing on to grad school and will have at least one more. Of course, that made perfect sense. Of course, I still felt terrible (I still do). My daughter acted as if she was completely okay with this solution, but I found her crying in her bedroom a little later, and my heart broke when I hugged her and she whispered, "I miss my dad."
Of course, we miss him every single day, and holidays are especially difficult, but these graduations are the first "events" where both my son and daughter won't look out and see at least one parent's proud (in the case of both of us) smiles and (in my case) misty eyes. Foolishly, I began frantically trying to figure out how I might be able to attend both graduations. I even briefly considered asking the president of her fairly small private college if she could "walk" twice -- once a day or two before with me taking pictures and a second time with her fellow graduates on Saturday morning. I knew, though, that my daughter wouldn't feel comfortable with that, even if the details could somehow be worked out.
The final plan we arrived at is for me to attend my son's graduation and for my sister and brother-in-law, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law and wife to attend my daughter's ceremony; some of my daughter's friends are attending as well. I ordered a DVD of both ceremonies and am planning a surprise graduation party for just my son, daughter, and I when he comes for a visit near the end of the month. We'll watch the DVDs, share a bottle of champagne, and celebrate their hard work and accomplishments.
This conflict, as well as the recent weddings of two of my son's best friends and seeing my son serve as a groomsman in each, has caused me to be even more aware that there are going to be other major events that will be bittersweet because of my husband's absence. Weddings, births of grandchildren . . .
What is the best way to handle these events? "Best" being relative, of course. Do I mention how proud their father would be of them? Or will that cast a shadow over the otherwise-happy event? Should I write a message in a card? Will there come a day when I will be able to share that truth and receive a smile and a quiet "Yeah, he would" in response? I don't know the answer to any of those questions. And therein lies the problem. What is the right thing to do, to say?
For me, the answer is one I've given to many questions over the years: it depends, primarily on the child. This coming Saturday, I will look for an opportunity to privately tell my son how proud and excited his father would be and how I'm sure he would have teasingly called him "Dr. Miinch". Knowing my son, he'll first nod his head and look serious, but then a slight smile will cross his face and he'll give me a hug. For my daughter, such a comment would almost surely bring tears that she would not want to shed publicly; instead, I will write her a short note that she can read privately when she feels ready.
In short, I'll do the best I can under the circumstances. Thankfully, both my son and daughter recognize and are appreciative of that and graciously and lovingly ignore those times when my best falls short.
How have you handled those special occasions -- holidays, life's milestones -- that can be so difficult in the wake of the loss of a spouse (or child)? Have you found ways to make these events less strained? If so, I hope you'll share by adding a comment. Likewise, if you have some particular situation or concern that you'd like to share, please do. Perhaps sharing will help a bit; hopefully, I may be aware of some resource or strategy that might help. Also, if you have a suggestion for an issue/topic you'd like me to address on a future post, please either share below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.