Grieving and Celebrating

We dropped our oldest off at college a couple of weeks ago, a sentence that makes it sound like we pulled up to the curb, opened the door, and pushed him out. Like it was no different than driving him to school any day since he was five. Eight words that don’t come close to encompassing the weeks (years, really) of leading up to it, nor does it bring to mind the sheer number of lists and items that were sourced, unearthed, or purchased and then loaded into the car for the drive to school. Are you allowed to grieve at the same time that you celebrate? This is an occasion we’ve worked hard for, after all. I’m proud of how he’s managing the transition even while I wistfully swipe through photos of him as a toddler.

  One of my favorite pictures of Julian.

One of my favorite pictures of Julian.

Trust me, the drop off took more than a minute and a careless “Have a good day; I love you!” It didn’t stop us from starting to paint his room about half an hour after getting back to the house.

  Car loaded for college drop-off.

Car loaded for college drop-off.

Part of getting ready to go cruising is all these milestones. We’ve had them before with both of our previous adventures: tell work we’re going, finish boat projects, move out of the apartment/house, provision the boat. Those will be the same this time around, in various progression, and for us, it’s important to acknowledge them. It’s not like we have a cosmic To-Do List that we tick off those massive steps, but they have to happen all the same. 

Life has milestones as a matter of course. Some are firsts, and some are lasts. First steps, first words, first day of school. First kiss, first child, first house. The “firsts” get celebrated in whatever way feels right at the time, some elaborately and some just with a cheers at dinner. “Firsts” tend to be anticipated and planned-for. The “lasts” though? Those are different. They’re easier to recognize in hindsight.

This morning I was at school, puttering around in the classroom space, when my co-teacher arrived. She’s a spitfire of intelligence, humor, and energy; she also happens to LOVE her birthday, which generally falls within the first week of kids being on campus. I’ve made it a point to help her day be extra fantastic the last couple of years.

It hit me this morning that last year was the last year for that. She’ll be out of town next week. No birthday shenanigans. I’m not sure what I would have done differently if I’d realized last year that it would be the LAST time I’d get to set it up as a celebration, but it remains a fact that the last happened.

So many “lasts” are only seen in hindsight. What would we change if we knew it would be the last time? The last time you see someone, or the last time a kid needs you for whatever, from a diaper change to a breastfeed to a snuggle to recover from a nightmare. 

  I miss you, Sue. I wish I'd gotten to see you one last time.

I miss you, Sue. I wish I'd gotten to see you one last time.

With Julian going off to college and with Bee starting senior year in high school, we’ve ushered in an era of “lasts”.

Last family (of 4) dinner at home. Last “first day” of school in the local public schools. Last set of school forms (yahoo!) and last scramble to designate an emergency contact. 

We still have to decide where we’re having our last Thanksgiving; we still have to navigate through the first time Julian comes home for break from college, which will be the last fall break he has in this house he grew up in. We’ll deal with the last set of college applications (the first ones for Bee) just a few months after we paid the first installment of college tuition.

Meanwhile, the boat is having her share of lasts and firsts. First major refit in over 25 years. First time we’re working on her with actual experience doing so. Last time thinking of her as a family-of-four boat (except for the odd vacations). At some point we’ll have the last yard bill in Virginia, or the last yacht club party, or the last time we leave our dock.

  Refit progress. Yes, this is progress!

Refit progress. Yes, this is progress!

The difference with a lot of these “lasts” as we get ready to go cruising? We can plan, anticipate, and celebrate them. Not because we’re glad they’re done, but because we are recognizing the change in status.

There are times, honestly, where it feels like our feet straddle two worlds. The trick will be to allow ourselves to both grieve and celebrate the firsts AND the lasts.

  Celebrate!

Celebrate!