Our deep cut could not be stitched closed so it was gently covered in a heavy-duty bandage. We knew all along that one day the bandage would come off; that the wound would have to continue healing on its own without so much protection. We didn’t know when that would be but when the moment came we closed our eyes, held our breath and just let it happen…
When the 2015 class graduated last year, while acutely aware that it meant Gus’ class had advanced to the 8th grade and would spend the next year anticipating new firsts as they experienced many lasts, we could not imagine what we’d feel when “it” (graduation) actually happened. We assumed we’d experience it as just one more occasion that Gus would be absent from and in our ignorance blurted out that we wanted to host the graduation party when asked how we wished to be included that year.
Busy with work and the construction of a new garage for the latter part of 2015, around February we eyed the now fast approaching date as nothing more than a home improvement deadline. The graduation party had been the perfect excuse to finish those nagging projects and repaint and redecorate the interior of the house. It was not until we began to hear about the high school acceptances in late March and April, that the gravity of what was happening set in. We suddenly realized that the class had been acting as a bandage. Gus was not really gone as long the class was together, their unity keeping him in the present. But as the day got closer, an image formed that threatened to crush our already heavily damaged hearts. We could visualize him standing among his friends in the green graduation cap and gown of his school, but when they turned to walk out into their futures, we saw him left behind at the altar like a jilted groom. Graduation meant Gus was the past, his only hope for a future in memory.
We began to fret that instead of the heartache of loss we’d grown used to feeling we’d be uncharacteristically bitter and angry. Those emotions surfaced every once in while especially when happening upon pictures of his friends having fun together or engaging in school events Gus would have loved. We acted on those occasions batting the irrational feelings away by imagining that he might have not been there anyway – that he would have been with us someplace else. There could be no ignoring graduation however, and all the events that lead up to it; the graduation portraits, the final field trip, the Baccalaureate Mass and luncheon. Adding to our sense of anxiety was the knowledge that our offer to host that final class party had not been met with unanimous enthusiasm. It broke our hearts to know that we had been the unwitting merchants of discord, however small and brief when class unity meant so much. We were tempted to pull out of the entire mess. Why bother with any of it? We decided to go on an emotional offensive, to thwart the burgeoning sense of grief with love and gratitude. At the insistence of the majority of the class, it was decided that the party would still be held at our house and while we were invited to various events we opted to limit our attendance to the graduation itself.
On June 3, 2016 we arrived at the church with our older sons and took our seats to the left of the altar. Although it was not our intention to cast a pall over the happy occasion, we had requested a few moments to address the class. At the appointed time, Gus’ best friend spoke about their classmate, presented us with the class yearbook lovingly dedicated to him and yielded the podium. As our sons distributed our gift to each student, my husband and I stood before his class praying that we could make it through without tears and delivered our prepared speech. (2 016 Class Speech & gift pictured below )
While we did make it through with just a pause to collect ourselves, our tears flowed freely during a touching tribute to our son in their class video. Then, when all the awards had been handed out and all the speeches concluded, the class stood as one for the last time and exited the church. We sat there for a little longer surprised that we felt nothing but peace. The bandage had been ripped off and while the wound was still red and raw, it no longer needed to be covered. The wound was developing its own protection, it’s own path to healing because we had been wrong, Gus was not being left at the altar that day, little pieces of him were being carried off by his friends.
Two days later, on a clear June night, the class and their parents descended on our house. Together we danced, laughed and celebrated their futures without tears or sadness. I am sure Gus was there because he was always the life of the party.