After a fabulous weekend of celebrating my daughter’s graduation from Wake Forest University (summa cum laude brags her mother!!!), I was tired and ready for a nap on the plane. My husband Warren graciously agreed to drive all the “stuff” home from North Carolina, and I got to fly. As I boarded, I noticed the lovely blond woman sitting next to me with yellow roses placed carefully under the seat in front of her. I asked if she was coming home from a graduation, and she said, “Yes, for Wake Forest.” But from there I discovered that her weekend experience was entirely different than mine. This was the woman (along with her 18 yr old son and husband sitting behind us) from the Chicago area whose older son was in my daughter’s class - he died in February in his sleep at the school. The University brought the family down to graduation in order to allow them to receive their child’s diploma and honor his memory.
I truly believe it was no coincidence we were seatmates. This family are followers of Jesus, and I learned about the recent months of grieving their loss. They have received amazing support from their local community, from Wake Forest, and from their local church. In fact, I discovered that I know her pastor – he was one of my favorite people at a leaders retreat I just facilitated in Albuquerque. This mom raved about how her pastor and the congregation at their church rallied around them and continue to carry them. She cannot imagine how they would have put one foot in front of the other without the love and lifting of others.
Two mothers on a plane. One on a high from celebrating my daughter’s four years of learning and growth, anticipating with great joy what she will do next. The other mom started out the college experience for her son with the exact same hopes, dreams, and enthusiasm. She was so close to her son that he chose to call her every day to check in. And now she flies home with some yellow roses and a graduation certificate – but no son to hug and hold and laugh with and celebrate. She must find peace knowing her son is awaiting her in heaven…while she grieves the loss every day.
I do not understand the ways of life and death. But as trite as it sounds, I am committed more than ever to treasuring every day I am given to love my family and friends. We must savor the moments, because we never know how much time we will have. This is not new information for any of us, but when you have the privilege to sit next to a brave woman who is trying to move forward when her heart has broken, you embrace the brevity of life with greater reverence.