When I was told in May 2011 that I had metastatic cancer in my liver, my heart chilled. Not because I was going to die, because after all, we all are. But because it was likely to happen before my youngest was raised. My job would not be completed, and that was horrifying to me.
My oldest son is doing well in his chosen career and has a serious girlfriend and is living life as an adult; he's raised. But my younger son? Still a kid. He was on his way to academic success - would grief cause him missteps? How could I be the cause of that? While my doctor never put an end date on me, life did, and the internet did, and three years was the number that came up over and over. I saw it in action, on forums and with women I'd come to know. The liver metsters - not always, not all of them, but often enough - they were gone by the three year mark.
So I set a goal. My son's graduation, three years in the future, was the shining ruby I wanted to pick up on this crumbling yellow-brick road I'd been forced to walk. I was going to do everything in my power to get there.
High School Graduation is an important milestone, not only for the child, but for parents. The ceremony is the culmination of that day long ago when, tears clinging to lashes, you let go of your child's hand, released him to the care of the kindergarten teacher, and allowed him to begin navigating the world without you. By high school graduation, the process of letting go should complete.
Parents, that diploma is as much for you as it is for your child.
During elementary years, they need your help in many ways - with social situations, with teachers, with homework and projects. You teach them how to handle time, how to behave even when they feel life is treating them poorly. You help them learn other people have perspectives that differ, you kiss their boo-boos and help them get up again. You put things in front of them: piano lessons, baseball, paint, dance, and you see which thing takes. When one does, you start driving.
They start high school as freshman, self-centered and needy, still very much kids. By senior year these towering hulks or lovely young women should be able to navigate the world of humans who have different needs and ideas with maturity and grace. They will have had teachers with a variety of expectations and personalities and the coddling of the younger years are over. High school is the time they understand how to satisfy obligations from many areas, just as it will be in their work life. Your role is now to step back and let them handle it, supportive with advice, but distant.
They should be able to handle their finances and manage to put gas in the car and understand that if rent is due on the first you don't buy that new video game on the 30th. And that, once in a while, the toilet has to be scrubbed.
And if you have boys, the floor too.
If you have taught them to do all that, if your kids are on that path, able to handle the basics of life, then they are ready to choose one of the myriad branches that will soon appear in front of them and walk it with confidence - and alone. In our culture you have successfully done the most important job in the world. You've raised your children.
Looking back, it was a long, arduous three years for me. I had to quit the job I loved. I've had hundreds of sessions of various chemotherapy drugs, many dozen scans, more time in doctors appointments than with friends, major surgeries, powerful radiotherapy. I suffered c-diff and sepsis that nearly did me in - days and days of being too sick to get out of bed. There were hospitalizations and medications and pain. I tried to make dinners and go to school events and back to school nights and take my son to practices. Many times my husband had to do those things alone, but I was still there, encouraging, asking questions, supporting my son's goals, even if I physically wasn't able to do all I wanted. We would have conversations about what he was doing in school, me in bed, him standing at the foot. I may not have been able to go with him, but he knew I was there in spirit.
And my son, he did everything he was supposed to do and far more. He got a 4.68 GPA in one of the most rigorous schools in California - he's a valedictory scholar, won the National Science Bowl contest, has been honored by the California Legislature, plus he has many friends and a good social life. He has hobbies he enjoys, and is kind and respectful. He's a well-rounded kid with dreams for the future which start next year at Caltech.
And, he makes a mean omelet.
We're still working on the toilet.
Together, we both did our parts, and the culmination of our separate goals was this wonderful day, Graduation Day, June 5th, 2014.
It hadn't started well. The day before, I became ill. I will never know what it was, disease or something I ate, (and considering how little I eat that would be a shock) but at about noon I started cramping up. By 1:00, I was quite nauseated. I hadn't had a day where I was this sick in a while, and it took me by surprise. I felt like I'd had appendicitis again but that sucker had been yanked pre-cancer. I took a compezine and went to bed, dozing fitfully, cramping mightily. I was terrified that I was not going to make it to graduation the next day, and I lay in physical and mental agony, screaming inside "Not now! Not after all this!" I rarely think life is unfair, but at that moment, I did. I couldn't believe that I might miss the day I'd been waiting to see, been tortured for three years to see.
At about midnight, I started to feel a little better. I'd been taking pain meds to try to ease the cramping, and I was finally able to get up and take this picture.
Maybe I would make it after all.
Next post - Graduation Day