Graduation: the receiving or conferring of an academic degree or diploma. This is what google says graduation means. Well, my meaning of graduation is completely different and my feelings around it are not all joy, but full of reflection. I'm reflecting on graduation A.LOT this year because my son Garret would have been part of the graduating class of 2023. Crazy isn't it? How does a mom (parent) celebrate or honor their child who isn't here? Are we supposed to just ignore the fact that he's not here, so why even worry about it because he can't graduate anyways? Well, I'm not 100% sure how to go about it, any of it really. What I do know though is I feel a lot surrounding what would be a very monumental and joyous time for my child. Crazy thing is Garret never even got to start school since he died at age one! I've had some people say that maybe he would be a Junior this year since his birthday was in June; but I know he would have been a Senior this year because I know a couple kids graduating that have birthdays after him that are Seniors. Just let me have my feelings.
I honestly thought about sending out graduation recognition cards to close family and friends honoring his memory and just acknowledging my grief and how I was feeling. I asked this question on a "forum" for grieving parents and many advised me not to do it. I guess that surprised me because I felt that it would have been something kinda cool. So then of course it put me in a funk and it made me sad, so I didn't. I guess I still could, but do the people out there really still care?
BUT...I did come up with a BRILLIANT idea to honor my son during what would be his High School graduation. We are going to give one student graduating from DC West HS (the high school I'm sure he would be graduating from) a scholarship in Garret's memory. I am beyond excited for this student, I am beyond proud to be able to honor Garret's memory with his graduating class. It will be called the "Garret Thomas Rittenhouse Memorial Scholarship". How this came about was, we were trying to plan our memorial money we had received from my father in law's funeral. I was like "Why can't we do this and give it to a student"? So, I chatted with my mother in law Suzanne and she was beyond excited about this idea and we know without a doubt that my father in law, Gary, would be so happy about this decision and would honor it 100000%. I reached out to the High School and we are running it through the DC West Schools Foundation. I was able to read all the scholarship applicants submissions for scholarships that the foundation had received and I chose a student (I had no idea who these kids were, I didn't want to know names at the time of my decision); I now know the kids name and I think he will be thrilled to receive this generous scholarship. There is more story to this, but I am not able to chat about it yet until they have their scholarship breakfast and he knows why he received it. I'll share a quick update on why I gravitated towards him next week for you.
So, I guess this is my way of honoring my Garret and what would be his HS graduation. I feel so much joy for all these kids graduating and as I'm receiving graduation invites in the mail, they are all so good looking and pretty; they all deserve all the success life will give them in the future. I would be lying though if I said there is a crack in my heart that sadness is coming out of. My niece Karlie is one who is graduating and she was born 3 weeks after Garret and she knew Garret his whole 1st year of life; so, she holds a little special place in my heart and without her even knowing it she gives me the courage to smile through it all.
One other thing maybe some of you don't know, is that my only living child Graci, was set to graduate in 2020. Yes, she was the covid class of 2020 and she never got to finish her high school career. Everything for all those kids looked different and as a parent, our dreams of watching and seeing your kid graduate really took a gut punch. We were able to celebrate her and her graduating class, but it all looked different. For a mom who has lost a child and then only has one other child to dote on and watch graduate and grow, that was I think the hardest part for me. My parental dreams were shook up once again of what should have been. What she worked so hard on for her whole life was looking way different and I honestly thought, why can't one of my children have a normal phase of growing. Well, honestly these are a lot of feelings and just a tiny thread of what a grieving mother can think about in a day. NOW, do not get me wrong, Graci is thriving and it didn't phase her. She is growing leaps & bounds in life and living it to its fullest. So, I am blessed I have a front row seat to watch her thrive and grow. Her army of angels have wrapped her up and have guided her very well I think!
I will end with a CONGRATULATIONS to all the kids out there graduating this year and honoring those parents for raising great kids. Also, remembering and holding those parents who are like me and do not have their child on this earth graduating; I am with you and honoring their memories. Remember, if we all come together and honor all our feelings and people...WE ARE BETTER TOGETHER!
(The picture below is of my niece Karlie and Garret at Garret's 1st birthday party. This was taken just 3 days before Garret died and our very last picture we ever got of him. Side note: Karlie wasn't my niece then yet even...she was our best friends daughter, then I went and married her brother after Jack died...lol)