I cried on and off for 8+ hours the day our governor announced that spring sports in Iowa were cancelled. By the time I went to bed, my eyes were burning. My nose was raw from blowing and wiping it. And I’m pretty sure there was a little guy with a hammer in my head pounding nails into my skull.
I recognized this feeling. The first wave of grief. The last time I felt it was when cancer so unfairly took a piece of me. This time it was because circumstances beyond my control took something of great value from my son.
My heart still drops like a rock in my chest every time I drive by the Ballard High School tennis courts. Grief is a slow burn, and there are moments I still feel the loss months after the season would have ended. If you are a senior 2020 mama and you haven’t yet allowed yourself room to grieve what your child lost, I encourage you to do so.
Our tendency can be to dismiss our own grief when we compare it to a worse grief someone else is experiencing. (Certainly a lost sport/lost musical/lost speech competition is not worth grieving. . . Oh, but it is.) Punching down that grief just prolongs the pain and layers it with guilt because we believe the depth of our sadness cannot be justified.
I experienced this with cancer. When I lost my breasts, I was sad, but I thought I didn’t have the right to grieve because I was alive and cancer-free. I should’ve been thankful, not sorrowful. I should have been jumping for joy, not crying as I looked at my scars in the mirror. But the truth is, you can be both of these things at the same time.
You can simultaneously be thankful and sorrowful.
Give yourself permission to grieve. Be thankful that you got to spend so much more time with your senior last spring than you thought you would. But be sorrowful at all that is lost. It’s okay.
It hurts so badly because we love them so much.
But sometimes in the midst of hurt, we are given the gift of seeing maturity blossom in the children we’ve spent our adult lives loving. I received this gift when my 2020 senior was interviewed for a newspaper story after tennis was taken away.
This is the concluding quote of that story.
“My mom teaching me life lessons in the years after she beat breast cancer has helped me so much. This has taught me that when one thing that is very important is taken away, move your energy to the other things that are important to you.”
What a gift those words are to me still today. Seeing my child accept one of the biggest heartbreaks of his life with grace filled me up in a way few things can.
It’s fall now, and high school sports have resumed here in Iowa. And I happen to have another senior. A football player. My #83.
I shed a few tears the Friday morning of the first game when I finally allowed myself to believe that it was really going to happen. It felt kind of surreal to sit on the bleachers and watch my boy play with his teammates on a warm late-summer Iowa night. A win celebrated under the stars on a field surrounded by Iowa farmland was a beautiful thing.
The Bombers played their second game and got their second win a few nights ago. I do not take for granted the blessing of a second competition for Owen and his teammates when Carter and his teammates didn’t even get a first.
I don’t know how the rest of the season will unfold. I don’t know how many games we will play unaffected by the circumstances of 2020. But I do know that because of the pain of the loss of tennis, the joy of each day with football is greater. I don’t take for granted the opportunity to soak a turf stained jersey and deodorize smelly cleats. These things that a year ago I may have thought a drudgery, I now consider a blessing.
If you are reading this as a mama of a 2020 senior who missed out on his or her time to shine on the field, track, court or stage, I am sorry. Know my mama heart grieves right along with yours.
If you are reading this as a mama of a 2021 senior who was given the chance to shine this fall in his or her sport or activity, bask in the beauty of it. It is a gift. Every practice. Every game. Every sweaty jersey. Every stinky pair of shoes. A gift.
Sit on the bleachers with me and enjoy the beauty of a season that wasn’t guaranteed and let’s be grateful for a little taste of a normal for those 2021 seniors we love so much.
“Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.” Ann Voskamp