Single Seat


My son graduated on Friday.  It was a good day. 

His graduation is not about grief.  But, just like everything in my life, his graduation got me thinking about Mike.  And, I feel incredibly guilty because not everything has to do with Mike.  Except that it does - for me.

I purposefully avoided social media this weekend because I didn't want to see photos of happy families celebrating their children.  My family feels incomplete now; and, I didn't want to observe what I no longer have.  It is beyond difficult to live on the outskirts of my old life.  I constantly ache for what I've lost.  And, especially during family events and celebrations, I desperately want what I no longer have. 

What I've lost was loudly pronounced at my son's graduation.  And, I know that some others who gathered also felt their own sense of incompleteness and discontentment.  But, at the time, this was little comfort to me. 

I am keenly aware that life has unfolded differently than planned for many people, not just me.  I am not unique in this; and, I know that I am in good company.  I acknowledge and I understand that many of the people who sat in proximity to me were also grieving all sorts of different things.  I wasn't the only person feeling out of sorts at this joyous occasion.  I could sense many heavy hearts hidden behind smiles. 

In the crowd, there were a lot of blended families.  Many men and women came to the convocation ceremony because they are in love with the mother or father of a child that isn't biologically their own.  And, many of these people love that child, like their own.  As I sat in my seat, I wished Mike was there with me, taking his position like the other step-parents were.  He should have been there celebrating and loving a child that wasn't his.  But, well, he's not like the other step-parents.  Mike is dead. 


 He can't occupy the seat next to me anymore. 

But, I know he can still love my sons. 

And, that has to be enough.  In fact, it's more than enough.

Love is enough.


The convocation ceremony was about the students and their achievements; but really, more importantly, it was an event about LOVE.  Family gathered together to celebrate children that are loved by them and who love them.  Love was present all around me.  It was tangible.  And, because the person I am in love with died, I sat alone.  I know this is blunt; but, there isn't a way to pretty it up.  I am not writing in a tone of pity.  The words are not meant to be overly dramatic or sad.   This was a family event; and, again, Mike was not there.  And, at all future events and milestones, he will be absent as well.  I wish it was different.  But, nothing can change it.  It is what it is. 

Never in a million years did I think this would be my life.  Sure, I know that I am not the only divorced person who attended the graduation of their child - on their own.  And, I also know that I am not the only widowed person who attended their child's graduation - alone.   I am however someone who understands these people.  I know, like me, they didn't imagine their life like this.  I know they didn't expect to be sitting alone celebrating their children's milestones. 


There is naturally a strong kinship among those of us who occupy single seats

because we understand what others can not understand. 





This said, I am truly happy for the "normal" families who sat together to love on their child; but I guess, if I am being completely honest, I am sad for me and my son.  We don't fit neatly into that life anymore.  I am divorced.  And, I am widowed.  And, our family isn't picture perfect.   This was obvious and very palpable at my son's graduation.



My son's father and I are happily divorced. 

He attended our son's graduation by himself too. 

We didn't sit together, but we joined together to celebrate our son. 

And, this is a really big thing that deserves acknowledgement.   

I am grateful that love is stronger than endings ~ in death, and in divorce too. 




There is no longer a sense of companionship between my ex-husband and I, and that's okay.  I don't miss it, and I doubt he does either.  We are just two people who share a past that includes our two sons.  If it weren't for the boys we would probably never occupy the same space; and this is not because of animosity, but rather indifference.  We have long out grown one another.  Still, there are two human beings who call us their family and this is why we continue to be in each other's lives. 

My ex-husband and I have been divorced for long enough that we know how to attend public functions without any real awkwardness between us.  We've stood along side one another at other events for our children.  And, in the past, Mike stood with my former husband and I as we supported our sons.   I am thankful that we usually manage to put our differences aside and the boys come first.  Our sons deserve this.  It's the least we can do for them as their parents.   And, in the future, I know that my ex-husband and I will separately attend all the big milestones our boys celebrate.  That's what family does. 

Family comes together in love, even when love has ended.  


Graduations, are about endings, and they are also very much about beginnings.  In this way, my son's graduation was related to and similar to grief.  Like in grief, after graduation, life continues.  Time will not stop and wait until my son gets accustom to adulthood.  Similarly, time did not stop when Mike died.  I have to learn how to navigate this new widowed life on my own.  And, likewise, moving forward, my son will also have to independently find his footing as he travels the path to adulthood.  Of course I will help him along the way, but this is very much his own journey going forward.  It is his right of passage.  It is his life to live.  My son's graduation is the beginning of whatever he wants.  Life is waiting for him.  Opportunities are his for the taking.  And, in this way graduates are similar to us widowed people.  Life goes on in spite of endings.  And, life is whatever we decide to make of it moving forward. And, this is what makes life beautiful.


The proud mom of a kind human being who graduated this weekend,




Showing 4 reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Staci Sulin
    commented 2018-06-23 13:57:42 -0700
    Bobby, Thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate your honest, heartfelt comments. My heart is with you as you solo parent. My situation is very different than yours; but as a parent I understand some of the things you wrote about and I completely acknowledge your struggles. All the best to you and to us all.
  • Bobby Atwal
    commented 2018-06-15 14:05:15 -0700
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I too understand the concept of sitting alone and not fitting neatly into a box.

    A month after my daughter’s second birthday, my wife died from cancer at the ‘old’ age of 38. I am usually the only man with a baby surrounded by moms at the park, grocery stores and on the bus. Yes, men are doing a lot more baby care these days, but it is still predominately women who do the childcare.

    My daughter is 5 now and doing great, but one of the hardest parts of baby care is that most businesses have a change table ONLY in the women’s bathroom. However, by far, the most challenging thing is happy, cheerful two parent families—the reminder of what we’ve lost. Sometimes I avoid them because it is just easier, especially when they start talking about how hard childcare is for them. I have never done it, but I think about saying “are you kidding me, at least there are two of you!”

    I know it is not healthy to dwell on what you have lost, but there are reminders everywhere for me. Like when I take her to an amusement park, and as we are standing in line, two parent families keep separating and then budging ahead of us. One parent stands in line, the other parent takes the kids for food or to the bathroom, and then just as my daughter and I think we are next, the rest of the family appears and push us back—the most annoying part is that if I say anything, everyone thinks I am the crazy one ruining their good time. Then, of course, I have to announce that my wife died recently, and the I am single father trying to do his best.

    Sometimes, I think it would be easier to wear a t-shirt that says, “Before opening mouth, please give widowed single dad a break.” The absolute worst interactions are mothers who think, “this dad doesn’t know what he’s doing, so I better help.” Luckily, most mothers are great, but there’s a small percentage that feel the need to impose their parenting style on to us and they just can’t stop talking—even if I calming, and politely tell them I appreciate the ‘help’ but we doing fine.

    So, yes, I understand the idea of reminders of what we’ve lost. Even though most people praise gender equality, many of those same people can’t believe a man can raise a little girl.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  • Staci Sulin
    commented 2018-06-13 11:01:08 -0700
    Yes, I definitely have a soft spot for those of us who occupy the single seats. Physically, we appear to be alone. And, a lot of the time it feels very very lonely, but in some ways I think we are the least alone people in the world. Love is all around us even when we can’t “feel” it and “see” it. I believe the love between us and our beloved spouses never leaves us, in fact I think it grows deeper.
  • Linda Tevebaugh Keeling
    commented 2018-06-11 15:25:21 -0700
    Love this.. you described the single seats and stuff with exes perfectly…
    Just keep doing what you are doing…. what comes natural… as best as possible