It has been a week of lasts.
Most of them have centered around Emily’s eighth grade graduation and her last days at our parish school.
I snapped this picture last week at the “clap out.” A school tradition where the entire school gathers to clap out the graduating eighth graders on their way to graduation practice in the church. It’s their last walk through the hallways of the school where most have spent all their elementary years.
It seemed every time I turned around this week it was to greet another “this is the last time we’ll _______” moment. It was like a Mad Lib fill in the blank all week long.
The more I thought about it, I realized it was more like a whole year of lasts. And I was half mindful of each Mad Lib moment.
Only half mindful because part of me wanted to recognize and celebrate each moment and the other half was in denial about this sweet stage in her life coming to an end.
All year I soaked up the lasts as intentionally as I could.
Like the last time she wore a volleyball jersey and took the court as captain for the school, sport, and coach she loves so much. That jersey might forever be her favorite.
Or the last time she sang with the school choir at mass. Is there anything sweeter than the voices of children singing? In church no less? I don’t think so either.
Or the last time we loaded up in the school parking lot and travelled across town with a car full of giggly teammates gobbling bagels and popcorn on the way to a game with cross town rivals. I’m still not sure why I thought popcorn in the car was a good idea. I don’t really recommend it.
Or the last time she took to the field alongside Maggie at a lacrosse game this spring, each beaming in the presence of the other. Even taking the taking the picture made my heart ache a little bit.
Or the last time she wore her school uniform and sang in the car with her sisters on the way to school, leading the chorus from the front seat. We’ll be minus a voice next year and the band won’t sound quite the same. Maybe I’ll just sing louder and get more lyrics wrong. That ought to make up for some of the void we’ll feel. Or not at all.
Or the last time she motioned a secret hand sign “I love you” to me from across the church during a school mass, a secret hand gestures only I would notice. Melt me. I will miss searching for her face in the sea of assembled kids, just as I still do Jake’s.
Or the last time I would see her holding court with a swarm of kindergarteners in the carpool line. Lucky for the young ones Maggie is there to step in with open arms. Genetics I suppose.
I sometimes still see Emily as a first grader with pig tails in the halls of the school and I wonder for a split second why 6 year olds are discussing graduation and high school, only to snap back to the realization that time is marching on. Faster than I would like it to.
There is a bitter sweetness to all these lasts and I have noticed a distinct correlation between the amount of time I spend dwelling on each monumental moment and the size of the lump that inevitably builds in my throat.
The great thing about celebrating the lasts, any last, when we are aware enough to recognize them, is that we get to cherish them. We get to fill in the descriptive blanks in our own mental Mad Lib, savoring each step and milestone, engraving details in our hearts as well as our minds and memories.
All the while I am reminded that some lasts are more bittersweet than others.
But they all serve to help us find the joy in new beginnings.