Dear High School Senior,
There are probably a lot of emotions running through you right now. At some point in the not-too-distant-past, you felt a jolt of electricity when the announcement first hit – school was cancelled for two weeks. Although there were other important milestones that fell to the friendly fire, they were usually accompanied with terms like “postponed” and “rescheduled.” As the days mounted but before the Netflix shows became stale, those words morphed into one reverberating clanging – “cancelled.”
The mourning began. There’s a prom dress that is still veiled in its plastic sheath. There are cleats in the closet that have barely pierced the grass. But there was one that you kept up home of adorning – your graduation robes. For some schools, it’s a white dress or a suit. For others, it’s a robe emblematic of your school’s colors. For some it’s a neatly pressed uniform. Whatever you were supposed to drape over your shoulders or pin to the top of your head will remain behind your closet door with the rest of your academic year.
You have every reason to be upset. The parties, the pomp, the circumstance – it’s all a right of passage that nearly every adult in your life has taken a part in. This was taken away from you not by a government, not by a school administrator, but by a freak event no collective memory can empathize with you. The loss of the end of your senior year is a loss no matter what anyone says. You can grieve for it because it is now and will continue to be an important part of your life as it is an important part of everyone’s lives. It’s unfair. It sucks. Do you hear me? It sucks.
But I write to you now so that when you take your entitled time to grieve, to look back at your mom. As she reads the governor’s orders, she will need a hug too.
From the moment you were born, she was told, “the days are long, but the years are short.” She whispered that phrase to herself as she had you laid over her shoulder, wobbling and weaving from one foot to another to get you to sleep. On your first birthday, she spent way too much money on things you don’t remember like high-chair fringe and a small cake that you showed no interest in. But she knew that, “the days are long, but the years are short.” She drove you to your practices at the crack of dawn and then stayed up late at night cleaning your foul uniforms. When you got your blue ribbons, she was proud. When you had your first heart break, she stomped around her bedroom in anger. When you got your college acceptance letter, she wrapped her arms around your grown-up body, shouting happy congratulations, but really thinking, “the days are long, but the years are short.”
In your memories, you see your parents as bystanders in the great milestones of your life. As a matter of fact, they were able to stand by and celebrate after long periods of planning, sacrifice, and personal struggle. The last two months of your senior year were no doubt showered in parties, end-of-the-year banquets, ceremonies, and, lastly, graduation. Each of those necessitated some large degree of planning whether it be dress code, carpooling, invitations, or little trays of foods to have out at your house afterwards. All of this usually goes unnoticed. In the excitement, we tend to overlook that which moms are best at – making sure everything is taken care of.
Your mom is probably disappointed that the trays of food she ordered won’t be eaten. She’s probably upset the fiesta-themed decorations she pinned on Pinterest won’t come to fruition. But what she is most upset over is that this is one thing that her child wants, deserves, and earned but cannot have. No matter how hard she fights, she will not be able to fix this for you the way she desperately wants to. It’s every scraped knee and broken friendship over your life compounded in a huge pile of grief. And when you look over your shoulder to other family members — dads, grandparents, step-parents, all of the sentiments I expressed above are the same. They too were there for all of the highs and lows. They too are struggling. High school graduation is one of the last individual accomplishments that are earned on the back of your family, whatever that family structure may look like.
So, take heart. You’ll continue to be stuck inside. Your visions of the end of your high school career are shattered. You’re devastated, and that’s ok. Like your mom told herself, “the days are long, but the years are short,” this too shall pass. Just remember that while those long days are surely to be filled with heartbreak, they can also be filled with mutual healing. You might think she just doesn’t understand, but she does. She might not show the way that you want because she’s trying to hold it all together.
Congrats, Senior. And congrats, Mom. You did it too, and I couldn’t be prouder.