Fear. Sadness. Joy. Hope. Pride.
On the night before my baby graduates, all of these feelings are cycling rapidly through my consciousness (perhaps fueled by a little wine and quite a few M&M’s). I tell myself that I will stop numbing soon, but today is not the day.
As I flash back to the first moment I held her in my arms, I can almost feel her, almost smell her. I can completely capture the feeling of the staggering love I felt for both of my children, because I feel it every time I am with them or even think about them.
In what seems like an instant, I am contemplating this rite of passage with some melancholy, but also a joy so big that it threatens to rip my heart apart. She and her sister both excelled scholastically, but I am most proud of their character, integrity, and kindness as human beings. I revel for just a moment that I had a part in that character, whether it was something I modeled or something they rebelled against.
When they were small, I wrote journal entries about what they were doing and what I wanted them to know. Today I will do the same, written as always in the form of a letter they could someday read.
So here it is—a letter to my daughter on her graduation day:
You are a phenomenal human being. An integral part of my heart. Someone that makes me feel like a better person when you are around. I want to be a good example for you. I want you to be proud of me, and yet I know you have loved me when I have found no love or pride for myself. This brings me more comfort than you can imagine. It reminds me that, even when I am so much less than perfect or worthy, I am loved. Not because I am your mother, but because you have seen the real me and find potential and value there. You had this love and respect for me long before I had it for myself.
When your step-father died, for a short time I felt lost. Helpless. Hopeless.
Although you were way too young for this role, you basically parented me until I could come out of the stupor of the loss of my husband and your guardian. I am sure you kept your own grief quiet while you protected me from the world. You helped me do the most basic things that I seemed to have lost the ability to do, like grocery shopping, remembering to eat, and laying down to rest.
I will never forget the day that the fog lifted and I told you that you could go back to being a kid. I was ready to be a mom again. I could see how much of a burden I had placed on you, and I remember feeling soul-crushing guilt and then sheer joy that I could take that pain away from someone who loved me so much. He would be proud and excited for you like I am.
I must have still been somewhat numb when your sister graduated two years ago. Although I felt nostalgic and happy at her graduation, none of it felt as heavy as it does now. I remind myself that although there have been many “lasts” this month, I now get to be a part of so many “firsts” that are just over the horizon.
I also remind myself that I have plenty left to teach you, as I have plenty left to learn. There are so many things I hope for you, but some of them weigh on my heart more than others; things I hope it does not take as long to embrace as it did for me.
You are an intelligent, wise, kind, funny, and beautiful woman with an enormously bright future ahead of you. No matter how old you are, this is your truth.
It is important to find a way to stay in touch with, or at least hold a place for all people now and in the future that are in your heart. Take the time and energy to show others their value in your life.
No one day can destroy your life. No matter how disastrous one moment, day, week, or month may feel, there is always hope as long as you choose to see it.
People will hurt you. Forgive them and move forward, knowing that most of them are lost in their own struggles and not trying to harm you.
There are times to charge forward, times to retreat, and times to just sit still. Learn to feel the difference and adjust, not out of fear, but out of a knowledge of the balancing act required by our journey.
Speak up. Speak up. Speak up. If you have an opinion. If someone hurts your feelings. If you want something. Speak up and then accept that you can only control your part of the story.
Understand that life is a process. Crisis. Resolution. Growth. Repeat. If you find joy, hope, and gratitude in all those steps, then you will find more contentment and happiness than most of your fellow human beings on the planet.
Laugh anytime you can. You can be a successful and powerful leader and still laugh. Flip that and bring laughter whenever you can. The gift of a laugh or even a smile is one of the greatest you can bestow, as each in some way helps to heal our often weary souls.
Value connection above all else. There is no motivation, validation, or joy quite as powerful as the ability to give and receive love.
I love you. Sad. Happy. Serious. Even petty. Although it is hard to watch you struggle sometimes, I understand that in your courage and ability I will get to watch your emotional and spiritual victories over all that you face.
When you walk across the stage tomorrow night, I hope that you feel all the energy of the love from the people in attendance and those who couldn’t be there either because of distance or death.
Part of the future rests in your able hands and heart. I trust you with it.
I finish writing and start my preparations for tomorrow. What will I need? Waterproof mascara, my departed husband’s handkerchief to wipe the inevitable tears (and to make me feel like he is a part of the whole scene), my phone charged to take pictures, and some of my favorite people in the world to watch one of my favorite moments with me.