Today was supposed to be a happy day. I suppose to some extent it was, but I found myself feeling a lot more sad than I had anticipated.
Today was Miles' graduation from preschool. I first wrote about my looming sadness about this upcoming event in my April 30th post (A Big Accomplishment was Bittersweet).
We learned a few weeks ago that his preschool was planning a drive-by graduation. In light of what is going on in the world, I was relieved to hear this news. Although it would not be all the pomp and circumstance of a normal preschool graduation, like my other children had, it would be something to mark this important rite-of-passage for him.
Last night, I put out fancy clothes his siblings to wear today, as if we were going to a real graduation. I carefully laid Miles' special outfit as well. It was the same outfit that Graham had worn before him and Garin before him. I always knew that Miles would wear it for his graduation, but just not under these circumstances.
We got up early and all got ready for the Big Day.. I took lots of pictures of the kids, in their dressy outfits in the front yard, which felt a bit odd, but what else was I supposed to do? We decorated the car and headed out. On the way there we talked about what it would have been like, if not for COVID-19. There would have been months of preparing the children at school to sing their graduation songs. There would have been a huge auditorium filled with family and friends clapping, cheering and snapping pictures with their cameras. We would have gone as a family and beamed with joy as Miles performed his songs and walked up proudly to get his diploma and kiss from Miss Jodie, his teacher. We would have brought him flowers then taken photos outside by the church. Finally, we would have headed to the same restaurant in Westlake, right on the lake, where we had Catherine and Graham's graduation lunch and of course, taken more photos there. None of that happened.
Instead, when we arrived at the church there was a long line of cars all decorated festively for the big occasion. We drove through in a procession and waved to the familiar teachers and administrators, all donning face masks. The teachers had decorated their cars with signs and balloons for the "parade route". They had "Pomp and Circumstance" playing over loudspeakers. Everyone was waving at Miles and saying special things to him as we passed, with our windows open. At the end of the procession was Ms. Barkes, the director, who had a huge decorative bag ready for us with Miles' name on it. She passed it through the window and put it on my passenger seat. His graduation was over in less than two minutes.
My reaction was so much different than what I expected. On the one hand, I was deeply moved by all the preparation and care that had been put into this lovely celebration. I could see the love on each face as we passed by, even though the masks. Given that I had braced for no celebration at all, it was incredibly touching that they had been able to make this so special for these pint-sized graduates and their families.
On the other hand, I was overtaken by feelings of sadness and loss. First, we had not seen the sweet faces of these teachers and administrators in months, so seeing them for the first time again, was overwhelming. Miles was at St. Bernadine's eleven hours a day, for three years, so these incredible women helped to raise him. Seeing their faces again made me cry. The last day we said goodbye, March 13th, I never could have imagined that we would not return to St. Bernadine's again.
As we drove through the procession, I was feeling joyous for the celebration that was, but also grief-filled for the celebration that was not. I knew that we could never go back in time and re-live this or make it any different. Some part of me just wanted things to be normal. I was angry that things turned out like this for him, for us and for the entire world.
We returned home, less than half an hour after we left. It was that quick. What should have been a day-long celebration was over in less than 30 minutes. Everyone changed out of their fancy clothes into shorts and tee shirts. The kids got on their computers and started their Zoom meetings for school. It was business as usual.
Miles stayed in the dining room and started to unpack the contents of the bag that Ms. Barkes had put on my passenger seat. In the bag was what was remained of his three-year life at this special place. There were a few art projects and two photos of him with some classmates. There was a little badge with his name that went up on a board every day, showing he was at school. There was a picture he had drawn of his hands and even some green slime in a zip lock bag. This was also a large bag of extra clothes that he had long ago outgrown. There was a lovely letter of encouragement attached to the bag from his teachers, Miss Jodie and Miss Sonia. Even the program for what would have been his real graduation was tucked inside.
I couldn't stop crying as I looked at it all this laid out on the table. Everything had stopped on March 13th. There were no more art projects, no more drawings, no more anything. When I looked at what remained, I felt like someone or something had died and in a sense it had. We left school that day and had no idea what was in store for us, our country, and the world. There has been an inordinate amount of loss since that day. So many people lost out on important celebrations and milestones that now will never happen. And then there is the worst loss of all and that is the lives of people who have died from this ravaging virus.
I want to take Miles back just one more morning with his lunchbox and see Miss Debbie's cheerful smile when we walk in the door of her classroom. at 7 AM. I want to chat with Miss Sue, in the office, on the way my out the door about some insignificant administrative issue that needs to be taken care of. I want to drive there at 6 PM just one more evening and see Miss Evelyn or Miss Jasmine cradling Miles in their lap, singing a song or reading a book. I want Miles to spend one more day in his classroom with Miss Jodie, Miss Sonia and all his friends. I want him to have one more go-around on the yard with the tricycle.. I am not ready for this to be over. Not this way.
I am grateful that we marked this important moment in his life, in some small way today. But I wonder, selfishly, if it would have been less painful for me, had we just passed it by? Maybe then I wouldn't have felt the loss so deeply. I have faith that someday I will see this in a different light, but for today, my heart is heavy.