I’m not at my personal best when I’m blind sided – especially, about personal matters. Most people are probably similar to me and aren’t comfortable when taken off guard. It seems that usually when I’m surprised by something – that “something” isn’t good.
In April, I had an unexpected call from the counselor at my kids’ high school. There’s no reason that I’d get a call from the counselor, especially since my son graduated 4 years ago and my daughter passed away 3+ years ago.
“Mrs. Guthrie, we know that Leah would have graduated this May. We’d like to do something to honor her during graduation ceremony; please call me and we can talk about it,” the counselor said.
Wow! I was stunned. Someone, other than me, is doing something to honor my daughter’s memory.
A grateful feeling came over me, especially as I knew graduation was around the corner. I didn’t know how I was going to react to the end of this school year. This spring would have been such a marker time in my daughter’s life. Some days it’s still so hard to believe that she’s not here to experience this right of passage toward college and adulthood.
When I talked with the counselor, she shared a list of ways that the school district wanted to honor Leah. I kept my emotions in check, but had a lump in my throat most of the conversation. The counselor kindly sought our approval.
My husband and I agreed to all the items planned. The big question was “Can we go to the actual graduation ceremony?” After discussing the possibility, we decided to attend. I really wanted to be there for Leah’s friends. She loved her friends so much. As I’ve gotten to know her “besties” more the last few years, I understand the reason that she loved them and I’ve grown to love them too. They are beautiful, smart, young women.
A few days before the ceremony, my husband and I were a bit anxious. It’s so hard to predict emotional reactions to these marker events without our daughter. We decided to arrive close to start time, so that we didn’t have to interact with all the excited families before the ceremony.
Sitting in silence most of the event, I tried to take in the whole experience. Having been a grade school volunteer for many years, it was nice to hear familiar names and see the “grown up” seniors.
Focusing on her friends and cheering for them (quite loudly), I got through the ceremony.
The gift the high school gave us included:
- An empty seat where Leah would have sat
- Flowers on the empty seat
- Her name in the program
- Her name on the scrolling marquee
- Announcing her name in alpha order along with the other students as they accepted their diplomas
- Her cap
- Her diploma
When the students left the stadium, the principal handed my husband and me the flowers, Leah’s diploma and cap. The whole experience almost felt – holy.
As we congratulated Leah’s friends, we also felt Leah was celebrated.
I’m so proud of our school district. I wish all parents who’ve lost children were treated with the respect and care that we were shown during graduation.
The high school gave us the gift of honoring Leah – and we had the choice whether or not to accept it. We chose to accept. Some parents may have a difficult time accepting a similar gift.
My advice to anyone reading this post is: always choose to remember a child who passed away. It is far better to honor the child and his or her parents than to act as though the child never lived.
After a parent loses a child, one of the emotional fears is that people will forget your child or never speak his/her name again.
The fact that the school celebrated our daughter is priceless. Especially since she only attended six days of Freshman year.
So touched. So blessed. And incredibly grateful.
The flowers given to us in Leah’s memory at the senior graduation ceremony.