Friday, June 16, 2017

To Jack's Friends on Graduation


 I was trying write a speech for all graduates this spring, but I kept getting stuck. 

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 to grieve and how to memorialize a loved one. You learned how to support each other and a hurting family in times of crisis. You learned that saying someone's name might feel awkward, but that it is a loving act. You know how to reach out, how to give a hug when all words fail, and how to persevere when life seems scary. I know the people you encounter will be blessed by this. 

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:

Be Kind.
Pay Attention.
Think.
Play.
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

Micah 6:8
Joshua 1:9


Thanks to my friend Carolyn, also a bereaved mom, for modeling this letter writing for me. 

23 comments:

Theresa Wells Stifel said...

So much love coming your way. Life is so bittersweet. Xo

Mary said...

Oh Anna, thank you for this, it's just beautiful. What a gift you are to so many, and what a gift Jack was to the world. Thank you. Also this: "Remember that you don't get your value from what you do, but from who you are, and whose you are." I will be sharing with my daughters--THAT is the lesson I want them to learn, but I couldn't ever put it into words quite so well. Much love to you and your family.

Jennifer Boykin said...

I'm sorry for your loss. I'm sad to say I've been there, too, though Grace didn't get a chance to make friends to remember her. Sending love.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anna

Sending you love and blessings from the UK

Your dignity and honesty shine through your posts.

Love to you all at this difficult and precious time

xx Sally

Jenn said...

Beautiful, Anna. I will share this with my graduating senior. Even though he didn't know Jack, these lessons are vital. Praying His grace for you, Tim and Margaret today.

Leanne said...

Such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. Thinking of you and your family!

Kate Coveny Hood said...

Sending so much love Anna! This is beautiful.

jannybelle said...

Beautiful....just beautiful. Love to you and your family.

KC said...

Just beautiful and so full of reminders that we all need all of the time. God bless you--and them--during these emotionally heavy days.

KC said...

Just beautiful and so full of reminders that we all need all of the time. God bless you--and them--during these emotionally heavy days.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I read this with tears running down my cheeks. Thank you for writing it, Anna.

Andrea Mowery said...

What a beautiful letter. Much love to you all. xoxo

Paula said...

I also read this with tears running down my cheeks. Absolutely beautiful! Filled with love, kindness, and wisdom.

katvienna said...

Just the other day a bereaved mom sent my son a text wanting to see him and his two friends. It's been two years now that her son died suddenly and left a foursome a threesome at the tender age of 18. The hardest thing for me that morning was racing home from dropping off my 12 year old at band camp, to be the one to tell my 18 year old before he found out from someone else or social media. My son still struggles at times with what he can do to comfort his friend's mom. And I struggle with how to describe the fact that she simply wants a connection. Thank you for posting this. I will share it with him. I think of you often, though I don't know you. I live in Vienna and constantly see or read things that remind me that your Jack is still ever present in our community.

katvienna said...

Just the other day a bereaved mom sent my son a text wanting to see him and his two friends. It's been two years now that her son died suddenly and left a foursome a threesome at the tender age of 18. The hardest thing for me that morning was racing home from dropping off my 12 year old at band camp, to be the one to tell my 18 year old before he found out from someone else or social media. My son still struggles at times with what he can do to comfort his friend's mom. And I struggle with how to describe the fact that she simply wants a connection. Thank you for posting this. I will share it with him. I think of you often, though I don't know you. I live in Vienna and constantly see or read things that remind me that your Jack is still ever present in our community.

katvienna said...

Just the other day a bereaved mom sent my son a text wanting to see him and his two friends. It's been two years now that her son died suddenly and left a foursome a threesome at the tender age of 18. The hardest thing for me that morning was racing home from dropping off my 12 year old at band camp, to be the one to tell my 18 year old before he found out from someone else or social media. My son still struggles at times with what he can do to comfort his friend's mom. And I struggle with how to describe the fact that she simply wants a connection. Thank you for posting this. I will share it with him. I think of you often, though I don't know you. I live in Vienna and constantly see or read things that remind me that your Jack is still ever present in our community.

nomadsbynature said...

Your letter is full of so much grace and love. What a wonderful way to honor Jack and the lives he touched. Thinking of you this week and sending you all our very best.

Vickie said...

You really have a (beautiful) way with words!! :)

Debby@Just Breathe said...

Absolutely perfect. You always have the right words to say. ((Hugs))

www.robinbotie.com said...

This is a beautiful letter, Anna. So much heart in it. What a gift to those kids, yourself, and whoever reads it.

Pam McDonald said...

WOW! Just WOW!!! What a beautiful and amazing gift you have given to these kids!!! What a reflection on you and the sustaining and supernatural strength and grace of our Heavenly Father. Praying an extra measure of that grace on you and your sweet family at this tender time.

Jeanie said...

That was so thoughtful of you and I'm sure much appreciated by Jack's friends and their families. It must have been so hard for you to write. Prayers for you and your family.

Amie said...

Anna- that was exquisite - achingly, heartbreakingly beautiful. You continue to inspire me and others. Thank you and may God grant you peace and strength each day.