I wondered if it was because I was just too heartbroken to write about graduation, when Jack wouldn't be walking across a stage, collecting awards, and smiling for pictures.
There would be no party.
Then I realized that addressing all graduates, and trying to come up with words of wisdom was too much. How wise am I anyway? I really just wanted to address Jack's friends, the ones who knew him in the flesh. These are the kids who for a while would glance over their shoulders thinking he'd be there. They are the ones who likely can still half-close their eyes at a group gathering and picture Jack as part of the scene amidst the laughter.
To them, Jack is not an idea, a concept, or a cautionary tale.
He's just Jack.
To Jack's Friends on Graduation:
Congratulations on your big day! We are so very proud of you and all you have accomplished! I'm not saying I couldn't have pictured all of this when you were goofy little kids, but I will say you've come a long way. You are smart, poised, generous and kind.
You will always have a special place in our hearts, in honor of the place you had in Jack's life, and the big love he felt for you. As we've watched you grow and change, we've pictured Jack alongside you, and although that hurts, it is also healing.
I am so sorry that our family's struggle represented such a shift in your childhoods. You didn't ask for heartache and the harsh reality of death to crash into your lives at such a tender age. It was shocking and scary. It left you feeling vulnerable. I wish we could have spared you.
I am relieved those horrible days and months are far behind us all, but I believe there are fruits that have come from this hardship, things most people don't discover until they are much older, if at all.
You learned so much.
You learned how important each person, each life, is to this world, so much so that when he or she is absent, the world feels a little different. Your life is important. You matter. Your presence is valued, valuable, and needed. There will be times when you feel insignificant, hopeless, or alone. You will wonder if you are heading in the right direction, or if anything you do holds meaning. Remember that you don't get your value from what you do, but from who you are, and whose you are.
You learned to lean on your faith and to see things from an eternal perspective. Yes, you had heard your parents talk about heaven for many years, but now one of your own was there, and it became even more important to live a life that focuses on what's real and what's true, not on the petty concerns of the world. You know that this is NOT the end.
You learned to persevere and to thrive. To trust even though things felt scary. To let yourself laugh and be kids. You saw us persevere as well, and this helped illustrate to you Luke 1:37-- "For Nothing is Impossible with God." Not even a new little baby-- eek!
I know we haven't seen each very often over the years. We were too new at grief to know how to navigate it and how to keep you integrated into our family life. I especially missed you as older brother and sister figures to Margaret, as I know you be if Jack were alive. I didn't know how to articulate what we needed, if I could have even figured it out. Yet you showed up again and again for special events and milestones. You snuck out in the wee hours and hung blue ribbons near our house for Jack's birthdays and crapiversaries. You culled your memories for any stories of Jack you could share with us.
It would have been far easier to pretend we didn't exist, but you and your families didn't give up on us. You held a space in your life for our joys and our sorrow. We never once doubted that you still love Jack and you love us. THANK YOU!
I've mentioned some things we all learned from Jack's death, but what about from his life? Remember when Jack's Auntie came up with these at his funeral? They are the way Jack lived, and I believe they are applicable to you today as you head off to college and to new adventures:
Never Give Up.
Share Others' Joy.
Friend, we share in your joy today.
And I know Jack does too. Remember in the Bible where it talks of a great cloud of witnesses cheering you on? Well, please know that wherever you go, you always have someone cheering you on. He's no longer the 12 year old boy you knew, or even the young adults you are now, but a soul with more knowledge, wisdom, joy and perspective than we will be able to get until we are with God.
He wants the best for you, and so do we!
You have so much to offer the world, and we will watch with pride and anticipation to see how God uses you and your gifts.
Love, The Donaldsons
Thanks to my friend Carolyn, also a bereaved mom, for modeling this letter writing for me.