A Time to Mourn and a Time to Dance

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You may recognize the title of this week’s blog from Ecclesiastes 3: 4. The first eight verses of this chapter are my favorites in the Bible. They remind us that life will give us joy and happiness, but it will also give us sadness, loss, and grief.  The Reade family experienced both ends of the spectrum this week.

On Wednesday, June 15th, at 4:00 p.m. our eldest child graduated from high school. On Wednesday evening we held a party at home to celebrate Carolyn’s graduation. It was a time to dance, you might say. Family from many hours away and from right down the road came to celebrate, along with close friends and loved ones. We celebrated the beautiful day, the ceremony, Carolyn’s accomplishments, and her future- a bright beginning to a new phase of her life. The house was filled with laughter, jokes, photos, well wishes, and lots of good food. It was all exhausting, but in the best possible way.

It was almost exactly twenty-four hours after our first guests arrived for Carolyn’s party when I got a phone call that my grandfather, who has been living in a nursing home for the past five years, was being placed on palliative care. His time was growing short. Though the nurses felt he would probably survive at least another day or two, I made the decision to travel up to central New York that night with my daughters. Our plan was to get to my sister’s house by 1 a.m. Friday, get some sleep, and visit him to say good-bye in the morning. It was important to me because 8 1/2 years previously, I had been making my way up the Pennsylvania Turnpike to say good-bye to my grandmother when she passed away. I never got to say good-bye to her in person and I didn’t want to have the same regret again.

As tired as I was, I didn’t sleep that night. My stomach was in knots and I couldn’t relax because I was rehearsing the things I wanted to say to my grandfather. I didn’t know if he would be able to hear me or understand, but I wanted to say those things just in case he could. I let my daughters sleep in the next morning because they’d done such a great job keeping me awake during the long drive the night before.

The phone call from my mother came as my daughters were getting up. My grandfather had just passed away peacefully in his bed (“he went just like a whisper,” the nurse told us). It was now time to mourn. All I could think was that I had missed saying good-bye to him, too. Mom had asked the nursing home to hold his body for just a little while so that we could see him one last time.

I went in to see him by myself, and I held his hand in mine and told him all the things I had rehearsed, and more. There was something strangely comforting about it- he was no longer in pain and I knew he was listening from heaven. If I had told him those things while he still lived, I would never know whether he heard my words or not. My girls talked to him, too, and my husband and my son said their final words to him over the phone.

For those of you who have read Secrets of Hallstead House, you may have noticed the dedication page, which reads For Papa. That’s him. He was the one who made it his mission when I was little to show me the St. Lawrence River. He would take our family out in his boat and we would spend long days in the sunshine, swimming in the river, fishing off the side of the boat, and picnicking. He taught me to water ski. And to this day Fresca is my favorite soda because of him. He and my grandmother taught me what grandparenting is all about from the time I was born (and up until my own parents became grandparents), and I am forever grateful to both of them for all their love and support. I will miss him, as I miss my grandmother.

The picture at the top of this post was taken almost a year ago, when he had a chance to visit the farm where he grew up.

Ready or Not

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This past weekend I watched my eldest child get ready for her senior prom. A friend of ours came to the house and spent several hours on her hair and makeup, then my daughter put on her dress, her sparkly jewelry, and her fancy silver high heels. Our friend put “pixie dust” on her shoulders, hair, and back, and she looked just beautiful…and grown up.

It’s that grown-up part I didn’t like . Because that signals to me that changes are coming, ready or not. Pretty soon she’ll graduate from high school, then before we know it she’ll be off to college. And those changes are not going to be easy.

Here’s what I was thinking while she got ready for her big night:

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I hate those movies where the mom is going through some crisis and pictures of her children’s lives flicker through her mind in bits and pieces. You know what? That actually happened to me. I pictured her learning to walk on our street in New York City, at her nursery school graduation, her first race on the swim team, those days when she wouldn’t let me brush her hair.

I thought I wouldn’t have a hard time. I thought I’d watch her go off to the prom, then the rest of us would have dinner, then it would just be a typical Saturday evening. But I was in a funk all weekend. My husband kept asking me, “What’s wrong?” And at first I didn’t know, but eventually I realized that it was because something was different- someone wasn’t home and that’s going to be the new normal in just a few fleeting months (actually, my son was away all weekend on a camping trip, too, but he’s got several more years at home). And here’s something weird- just hours after the prom started, I went to bed and I dreamed about my daughter as a baby. I hadn’t done that in years.

I was driving on Sunday, listening to the radio, and Spandau Ballet’s song “Time” came on. I almost lost it. But then I pictured the headlines in my mind (“Prom Mom, Distraught Over Song on Radio, Flips Car on Garden State Parkway”) and managed to keep it all together. But I started to worry- what if “Safe and Sound” by Capital Cities comes on? What if “Changes” by David Bowie comes on? I couldn’t bear the thought of it, so I turned the radio off.

Am I doomed to keep the radio off for the rest of my life?

Thought it might stay off for a while, I doubt it will be forever. Because we all survive these changes. If there’s one thing that gives me comfort, it’s this: millions upon millions of parents all over the world have had these exact same thoughts for centuries – probably longer – including, I suspect, my own parents. And everyone turns out fine. Life goes on. It’s not easy at first, as I’m beginning to learn, but I will eventually get used to the new normal. And by the time I get used to it, my younger daughter will be ready to graduate…. then my son… but let’s not go there now.

I used to worry that if I remained a stay-at-home mother forever, what would happen when all my kids went off to college, then careers, then homes of their own? What would I do with myself? I knew I didn’t want to practice law again. And that’s part of the beauty of writing. I hope I can do it forever. I work at it full-time now, so I’ll continue to throw myself into it during all the changes that will be taking place over the coming months and years. And writing is already helping me through the transitions, because they’re starting, ready or not.

Until next week,

Amy

On a Personal Note…

It’s that time of year again, when kids are graduating from high school, middle school, elementary school, etc. The college graduates, for the most part, were thrown into the real world about a month ago.

Yesterday I was in the Hallmark store picking up cards for my niece and nephew (they’re cousins, not twins), who graduate from high school within the next week. They’re both going to college in August; one to a school in Maryland and one to a school in New Jersey. It goes without saying that they’ll be greatly missed. Besides wishing them good luck and much happiness and success, my hope is that they will avoid what happened to me on the day I graduated from high school.

I fell asleep in the sun in the morning on graduation day and got a bright red sunburn on exactly half of my face. This is what I remember most about my high school graduation.

May the memories of my niece and nephew not involve sunburn.

My eldest graduates from high school two years from now. I started getting choked up in the store looking at graduation cards, wondering where her future will take her and feeling an almost palpable sense of sorrow because she’ll be leaving home.

When I got home she got mad at me for buying kiwis instead of apples for her school lunch, and I was brought back to reality with a lurch.

A friend of mine says that teenagers were designed to be difficult because it makes saying good-bye easier when it comes time for them to go out into the world on their own. But what happens when your teenagers bring more happiness than despair? I guess that just means it’ll be harder to say good-bye.

My middle child graduates from 8th grade next week, too. She is headed to high school, where she’ll be introduced to lots of new kids, lots of new activities, and lots more work. And she’ll be in school with her sister again, which makes me very happy.

Forgive me for spending the next few moments bragging unabashedly. Last week she received an award given to an eighth grader who demonstrates kindness, respect, and service to the school and community. The award is a big deal, and we couldn’t be more proud of her. I have a feeling she’ll be just fine in high school.

My youngest and another of my nieces graduate from 5th grade next week. They are headed for the big, wide world of middle school. There they’ll experience different teachers for different subjects, lockers, moving herd-like from class to class, and a higher degree of independence. And, as I keep reminding my child (and to put my own riff on a phrase from the movies), with greater independence comes greater responsibility.

Graduation is a time of moving forward, and I think that should be celebrated at every level, not just high school and college. In our family we’re proud of all the kids, whether they’re graduating from high school this year or have seven more years to go. Best of luck to all of you, and remember that we love you.

Until next week,

Amy