On May 29th my little girl graduated from High School. The ceremony took place in a beautiful garden with an audience full of proud family and friends and an air of hope for the future all around. My mind drifted back to a time in my own life when naivety and optimism were companions I knew well.
As with most milestones post 8/31/05 there was a bittersweet quality to our celebration. Phil is a regular topic of conversation in our home, and we welcome him to our family gatherings now by commenting on what he would do if he were here, things we remember about past celebrations, and the ways we still miss him today. We tend to do this instinctively, and often separately. Our remembrances create a space for Phil to join us on our continuing life path.
As I listened to the speakers at the commencement ceremony I thought back to my own high school graduation and the ways that my view of the impact one person makes on the world has changed since that day many years ago. I remember being encouraged to work hard, discover and follow a dream, set ever higher standards, and live a responsible life. All good advice; yet I can't help but feel that collectively we often fail to remind our graduates (and ourselves too) of a few essential components of determining a life well lived. But graduates who have lost someone they love have achieved a distinction that others their age have not, and have learned lessons that they will carry with them throughout their lives. My daughter knows some things that I did not when I entered the adult world.
Caitlin knows that life is short, and that now is the best time to live your dreams. She has discovered that the things you remember about a person you love have nothing to do with how much money they made over their lifetime. The word priceless doesn't really apply to material things for my little girl, but it does apply to memories of bike rides, rock climbing, watching a TV show as a family, and running after the ice cream man with a dollar in hand. Death has taught my graduate that grief is a part of the cycle of life, and that like it or not we have to find a way to keep going on the path laid out before us. I would bet though that she is more convinced than ever that she won't sit idle while the landscape of life passes by her unnoticed. Kate knows that value isn't measured in dollars and cents, but in compassion and integrity. She has no expectation that life will be easy, but is determined to make the ride worthwhile. She has faith in her family, counts many people as friends, and knows that her life was changed for the better by just one person.
I have to believe that the bitter, which is inexorably linked with the sweet… that has now become an expected part of our life milestones, has taught our family some significant life lessons. And also that the bitterness of loss makes the sweetness of life more meaningful. I send my daughter into the world a richer person because she has loved and lost a man whose life impacted others not by measure of his paycheck, but because he cared for his fellow human beings. Thanks honey.