Over the past month, graduates have walked across the stage to receive their diplomas while families look on proudly. It is truly a wonderful milestone that is to be celebrated. At many graduations there are empty seats to represent classmates whose lives were tragically cut short. But for some who were projected to graduate with the class of 2022, there are no empty seats, only empty hearts.
My daughter grew up with the 89 students that make up the graduating class of 2022. We treasured all her childhood memories up to her ninth-grade year. It was then that the world began to whisper her name and she turned toward what it had to offer and turned away from those who loved her. All the graduation invitations, parties, and ceremonies this year have been a painful reminder that there should have been 90. It is the first year that we have received over a dozen invitations and multiple invitations to graduation parties. Looking back, all the time that we spent coaching, cheering, helping, going to church events and attending friend’s birthday parties with our daughter, we were also given other children to love and encourage. It means a lot that these young people count us as part of their families and friends.
It is a different kind of grief when parents are grieving for children who are still breathing. Sometimes no matter how much you fight for your children and love them; they still choose to go their own way. God has been teaching me that pain (although painful) can be a good thing. Pain is a good thing when that pain produces something in and through you that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Pain can actually be productive. In my case pain produced unrelenting joy!
At a particularly raw moment along the way when my daughter was making it clear she wanted to separate from the family, I cried out loud. “God, I need joy! I have others who are looking to me and they deserve a joyful Mama, wife, teacher and friend. Please give me the joy that can only come from you.” And he did. I have so much to celebrate in my family, school and community and I choose to do it! Not as a cover for my pain, but because of it. “My servants will shout for joy from a glad heart, but you will cry out from an anguished heart, and you will lament out of a broken spirit.” Isaiah 65:14. So I will attend every party, every awards ceremony, and every graduation ceremony I can because the Lord has afforded me joy to celebrate this year’s graduates.
I still hold my daughter very close to my heart in my prayers. She doesn’t appear in our family pictures, and she won’t be photographed among the graduating class of 2022, but I pray that one day her pain is productive. Perhaps one day, the Lord will use this time in her life to help another young girl so that she can be that 90th graduate.
This article is particularly painful for me to write, but if my ministry is to be real and effective then I must share what God has done for me. If you are grieving for someone who should be graduating, I want to leave you with this…God is not done! Continue to lift that young person before the Lord every single day. Though it may look hopeless, when you are in Christ there is always hope. And choose joy! There will always be sadness you carry with you when you lose a child, but we press on towards the reward God has for us with those who are still with us to a place where there is no sorrow.