Graduation: A Very Personal Story

In the Pacific Northwest, we don't get to say goodbye to our school year until mid-June. The rise of FB makes it worse because everyone else in the country kisses school goodbye a few weeks sooner than we do! I don't recall paying much attention to graduation season in the past few years, but for some reason, this year's is really getting to me.

In 2007, I completed my 4th year of college, 2nd year at the University of Washington School of Business. It was a rough 4 years. I worked like crazy. I worked up to 32 hours a week, and no less than 28 most weeks while taking a bit more than full time course load as well. I had to do this to afford what was left of my tuition and living expenses after my grant and scholarship money was used up each quarter. I was what they called an "alternative student," married (by my junior year) and commuting to campus. I did not enjoy being "alternative." It translates to: "weird." Married undergrads aren't real common. And I was a little older than everyone else because I had spent my first 3 years following high school on a dance career that didn't pan out. I was definitely a mess from all that.

However, I was an excellent, excellent student. I graduated magna cum laude from the Business School Honors program as reigning Society of Human Resource Management Jeopardy champ of the PNW. Still the same old geek from high school! I would have been headed off for some great job following receipt of my BA in BA-HRM except that Brendan was the one already set up with the great job. He graduated 6 months before me and was working full time in his chosen field. A couple months before graduation, I managed to convince him that I could just have a baby. Once we were married, I figured we could just get on with having children, so that by the time they were grown and gone we would still be young enough for a round 2- which to me meant career and travel! I still am looking forward to all the things I want to whole-heartedly pursue once my kids are out of my house. About as soon as we had a conversation about having a baby, we were pregnant with our first baby in the Spring of 2007.

You may know from reading this blog that I am big on celebrating special occasions. I've always been that way a bit, but I think that my failed ballet career experience sealed that. My parents basically never saw me dance once I moved away to Seattle. I always played down every part and performance because I knew the cost of them coming to see me all the way from Texas was a big deal. My last performance opportunity was ruined by a last minute sprained ankle, so my last hurrah became instead one last, huge, depressing, flop. I fell in class, the last class I would ever take in the studios at PNB as a student, while my mom and sister were on the plane to come see me. I picked them up from the airport on crutches, and the weekend proceeded to suck in, oh, so many ways. I think the seed was planted then that I needed to just let myself totally go and celebrate every big moment I may ever have because you never know when things will be ripped away. In this spirit, I threw a giant graduation party for Brendan on the rooftop of the Hotel Deca. It was so great, and I sort of felt like it scratched whatever celebratory itch I may have for my own upcoming graduation. But, a couple months before my scheduled graduation, under a blossoming cherry tree on a sunny day, I told my mom over the phone that I would actually really like for her to come to my departmental commencement. I wanted to be proud of what I had managed following such a devastating loss that ended in a terrible visit at the end of my ballet career. She understood, and we made plans for her to come.

These plans became even more exciting when the visit would also be the first time my mom would be with me pregnant! Such an added treat! Everything felt like it was ending well. It had been a very hard 4 years, but in spite of my previous loss, here I was: married, graduating with honors, and pregnant with my future. I was particularly tickled by the fact that I would "walk" pregnant- just like my mom had with me inside 24 years earlier.

Sadly, things took a turn. While Brendan was away on business in San Francisco, I started bleeding a little bit. I'm pretty sure that this is why I still hate it whenever he has to go down to Cali. The next two weeks were a terrible rollercoaster with blood work looking fine, and bleeding improving, to terrible gushes in the middle of my work day at the Foster Business Library's writing center. A day or two before my mom was supposed to arrive, I went in again for bloodwork. While my mom was on the plane, my beloved midwife called to tell me that my pregnancy was over. I picked her up with the news that, once again, it was going to be a very rough weekend.

At that point, I was ready to hide in a ball in my apartment crying. Then, my pastor called me. He had heard my news and was calling to give me his condolences and counsel. I mentioned how awful it was that this was ruining my mom's visit and my graduation. He encouraged me to still do my best to be thankful and celebrate the work God had done by seeing me through my 4 years of school. I decided I should still do the departmental ceremony in spite of the circumstances. I bawled my way through church that morning and passed what I'm pretty sure was my baby in the rest room of my church building. Sometimes I still think about it when I have to go in there. Later that afternoon, armed for the terribly concurrent events, I graduated from the University of Washington. There was no party. My mom took Brendan and me to a nice little dinner at St. Clouds. I remember it being delicious. I remember the labor pains.

So, I get a little crabby about graduation celebrations. Mine was so wrought with grief and confusion. I had nothing to look forward to but mourning the death of my first child. Or so I thought at the time. Now, three more children later, I know that I became a mother that weekend at the same time that I graduated from college. I have no great business career, not do I want one. But I am a mom, and, as my children love to hear me say, it is the best job I could ever have. That time 4 years prior to my miscarriage when my mom had come to see the death of me as a ballerina, something beautiful rose up. Brendan suffered from cyclical vomiting syndrome during high school and college. It was a terrible phase. That weekend of my not-performance, he wound up getting so sick that he was hospitalized for a few days. I was faced with the sadness that I was in love with a man who may be too sick to ever be there for me in my worst moments- as happened that weekend. The day after my mom and sister flew away, I sat in Brendan's hospital room about as sad as I had ever been in my life. It was a quiet moment when no one else was there. He threw up, and, as I cleaned the basin out, I felt the thought come clear as a bell: "I don't ever want anyone else to do this." I decided right then that no matter how bad things might get for either of us, I wanted to be with Brendan for better or for worse. A year later, we were engaged.

In a similar fashion, that weekend of my graduation, something beautiful came again: I could trust and love this God that was overseeing all these awful things that were happening and had happened in my life. I was more ready than ever before to love him and be loved by him for better or for worse. After my ballet life fell apart, I felt close to God, but I was a little bit afraid. I was glad to have been shown that God would take me to and through measures to make me fully his that I would never pursue on my own, but I was afraid that if it happened again in such a shattering way that I might begin to doubt that he was good and really loved me. But, while I was losing that baby, my greatest source of comfort was knowing that God had my child in his plans and heart and that he loved all of us- me, Brendan, our baby, and my mom- more than anyone ever, ever could.

So, even though the feelings are difficult, still bitter, and mixed, remembering my graduation means much, much more to me than just a cap and gown. When I see people in that costume, I rejoice for them, and I mourn for my lost child (even more now that I see what beautiful, amazing people my children are) and for myself for having to go through such a painful, visceral experience rather than feeling the joy I see on other people's faces in their photos. I have a picture of me shaking my dean's hand. To others, it looks like a regular graduation photo, but I bought it because it is my memorial photo of me during our loss. It's a picture of me having graduated to the ranks of parenthood, to the state of loving someone more than I had ever thought possible- not for who he or she is or does for you, but purely, purely for the fact that he or she was made. And when I look at people in cap and gown, I pray that God would show them why they were made and that he loves them- just because he is a great, great parent.

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