Graduation Without You

By guest writer, Samantha Halle

I was listening to the radio this morning. Dads were sharing moments during which they were so proud of their children, it brought tears to their eyes. My hand reached to change the station, but I was frozen – I wanted to hear more of the love in their voices. Looking through tears at the cars in front of me, I thought about all the moments in the past few months that would have brought tears to my own dad’s eyes; the moments that would have made him proud.  

In one month, I’ll graduate from high school – the countdown to the end. It’s as if a domino was tapped. One by one, things are starting to end. And, with each of my senior lasts, I’m one step closer to that surreal moment that’s played in my head for years and years: walking across that stage to graduate.  

It’s a moment that the Class of 2010 has looked forward to since September; one that we have longed for on countless occasions. Whether viewed as an escape from our high school walls, or the culmination of years of projects, tests, and quizzes, graduation is a celebration of success – a celebration in which you’re surrounded by your teachers, family, and friends. But as the days inch closer and closer to June 18th, a fact that I’ve known for seven and a half years has become increasingly more real: my dad won’t be there.

It’s something I’ve struggled with all year. For me, graduation is symbolic of all the things he has missed and will miss. It’s knowing that he won’t be there to watch me with his fill-the-room smile. That he won’t be here to take an entire memory card’s worth of pictures, and that the family pictures that are taken will feel incomplete. I won’t get a bear hug while hearing him tell me how fast I’ve grown up, and he can’t purposefully embarrass me just for laughs. Nor can he brag to his friends about my successes because he wasn’t here to experience them with me.  

But it’s even more than all of that. It’s realizing that he never knew me as a teenager, and will never know me as an adult. That he will have missed all of my “graduations,” from elementary, middle, and high school. It’s the fact that I’ve made decisions about my future and am moving on to create my own life. A life he will never know. 

Amidst all the excitement about graduating and moving on to new things is an underlying fear. As much as I’ve tried to embrace changes in my life, change still makes me uneasy. Despite all of the changes that have occurred since he died more than seven years ago, these changes feel harder. It scares me to know that I will no longer be surrounded by my family on a day-to-day basis, nor will I be in an environment I know. I’m worried that it will be easier for my memories of him to fade; I’m terrified I’ll begin to forget.

As the years since my Dad’s death have grown in number, fewer and fewer of my friends are people who actually knew my Dad, and it scares me to think that moving on to college, and on with my life, will only make this worse. This, in itself, is a thought that has brought me to tears on countless occasions.  

The majority of my current friends never knew him – to them, he’s just a myriad of bits and pieces of memories; stories that are tied to a sad part of my life. He’s more of a myth than a real person, and it hurts to know that a day will come when the majority of those who did know him will no longer be a part of my life.   

In 30 days I’ll graduate wearing the last necklace Dad bought me with a picture of the two of us taped on the inside of my cap. And although I’ll do small things like this to help stay connected, it won’t make up for the fact that he’s not here. At the end of the day, it still won’t be fair.

Yet, I know I’ve become the person I am because of my loss. And I know he would be proud.

29 Comments:

  1. kateland said on May 20, 2010 at 10:21 am ... #

    Wow. I graduated Class of 09, my brother was in the same grade as I was. He passed away our Freshman year, and of course graduation was a hard time. But, you couldn’t have said it better. Everything you just wrote was exactly what had crossed my mind. Its liike you took the words righ out of my mouth. Thank you for sharing, this was absolutly amazing. Stay strong, you know your Dad is looking down on you watching. He couldn’t be more proud of you! Good luck with he next month, and moving forward in life, its a great feeling!!

  2. Stephanie Hammond said on May 20, 2010 at 11:23 am ... #

    Very touching Sam, he will be with you there in spirit and proud for sure…

  3. emily miller said on May 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm ... #

    my son died 5 months ago, he was 25, he left us a daughter her name is Hope, everyday i think of the milestones he is missing, he only shared 1 christmas, 1 birthday with her, the only memories of him she will ever have r ones we share with her, and in her imagination, good luck with your graduation and be so greatful for what u did share, i am sure u r.

  4. Ginger Auten said on May 20, 2010 at 4:26 pm ... #

    Thank you for sharing thoughts on what is such a milestone yet so difficult for you. My son will be a senior next year and I will save this article for him. I know everyone of my children’s milestones will be shadowed by the fact that their dad is not with them to share. We have our pictures and our memories and will just need to remember that he would be sooo proud of them. Congratulations on your graduation. I am sure your dad is proud and walking with you.

  5. Lynda said on May 20, 2010 at 6:21 pm ... #

    I read this with tears falling down my face.I lost my 24 year old daughter 2008.She has a 3 year old little girl.Her little girl will be feeling just as you do on her graduation day many years away.My daughter loved her little girl so much and she will be with her daughter every step of the way through her growing up. Your dad will be with you, up above looking down with that big smile on his face watching you walk across that stage.Get your diploma in your hand and look up and smile right back to him..He will see it.Congraulations!

  6. Charles F. said on May 21, 2010 at 1:16 am ... #

    My father died when I was a freshman in HS back in 1987. When I graduated HS in 1990 (now nearly 20 years ago) it was bittersweet. My mom was of course there and other family, but I had to remember my father was watching me from above. When I walked across the stage it felt like my dad was waiting to see that moment for so many years….then when college graduation came and receiving my MA a few years after that, I felt the same way, like he saw me graduate even though he was no longer on this earth.

  7. Bruce said on May 22, 2010 at 4:05 am ... #

    I read this with tears falling down my face.I lost my 24 year old daughter 2008.She has a 3 year old little girl.Her little girl will be feeling just as you do on her graduation day many years away.My daughter loved her little girl so much and she will be with her daughter every step of the way through her growing up. Your dad will be with you, up above looking down with that big smile on his face watching you walk across that stage.Get your diploma in your hand and look up and smile right back to him..He will see it.Congraulations!

  8. Jen R. said on May 23, 2010 at 10:35 pm ... #

    Congratulations on your graduation, Samantha! Thank you for sharing such a poignant article! My dad died of a heart attack just months before I graduated from college (nearly 20 years ago). I remember it being such a bittersweet moment (along with many others to follow). I wanted so badly for my dad to be there, but I was comforted in the thoughts that he was in some ways all around me, perhaps ensuring I walked across that stage without tripping! Now, I am faced with comforting my son, who will be “graduating” from grammar to middle school, just as we approach the 1 year anniversary of his own dad’s (my former husband’s) death. I imagine this will be one of the first of many bittersweet milestone moments for him. I appreciate the perspective you share in your article. I’d like to think your dad would be so proud of you!

  9. ANGELA ZYLKA said on May 26, 2010 at 10:45 am ... #

    What beautiful thoughts Samantha. My husband died 6 years ago…so far has missed 3 high school graduations,1 college & numerous other moments.
    I just returned from adult camp in Va. It continues to be the biggest help to me in my journey to help myself & my children.Your thought
    & sharing will help us to reach other people struggling to find peace. Thank you
    Angela

  10. Victoria F said on May 27, 2010 at 11:21 pm ... #

    This article is so timely. My husband passed away almost 4 months ago and our daughther will graduate in one 1/2 weeks. Each milestone is hard for me without my husband as I’m sure graduation will be hard for our daughter. I will suggest the idea of a picture of Daddy inside her mortar board. I will also share this article with her as she will head off to college this fall. Thank you for being so strong and sharing your thoughts with us.

  11. Steve said on May 28, 2010 at 9:41 pm ... #

    Congratulations on your graduation, Samantha! Thank you for sharing such a poignant article! My dad died of a heart attack just months before I graduated from college (nearly 20 years ago). I remember it being such a bittersweet moment (along with many others to follow). I wanted so badly for my dad to be there, but I was comforted in the thoughts that he was in some ways all around me, perhaps ensuring I walked across that stage without tripping! Now, I am faced with comforting my son, who will be “graduating” from grammar to middle school, just as we approach the 1 year anniversary of his own dad’s (my former husband’s) death. I imagine this will be one of the first of many bittersweet milestone moments for him. I appreciate the perspective you share in your article. I’d like to think your dad would be so proud of you!

  12. Annie said on May 29, 2010 at 10:12 pm ... #

    Your article, Sam, hit the nail on the head. I will be graduating high school this year as well and although I am excited for the changes that lie ahead, I am also sad and scared. My dad will be missing a huge milestone in my life, when he should be there. I plan on putting a picture of him inside my cap or tucked into my gown somewhere, so he will still “be there”. I know my dad would be extremely proud of me for getting through this as well. (:

  13. mariel said on June 8, 2010 at 5:12 pm ... #

    This is a beautiful article Sam. My daughter will be going through the same situation. My husband died 6 years ago…. I wish there was something I could do to ease that pain that although she has not voiced yet I know will be there on thursday. You are a brave young woman and you are helping more that you would know.
    hugs

  14. Jen said on June 8, 2010 at 9:18 pm ... #

    Thank you for the beautiful article Samantha. My father died when I was 13 years old, and impending graduation has been on my mind ever since. I still cry whenever I think about it. I know it’s a happy milestone and I do look forward to starting my own life, but it really hurts to know that the person I loved most won’t be there to hug me and celebrate.

  15. Nancy Simmons said on June 23, 2010 at 1:50 am ... #

    My son will be graduating high school this coming friday. With tears in my eyes I think of the facts that I have thought of: That his dad (who passed away on the first day my son’s senior year) will not be there to share it, will never see him as an adult and a thought I hadn’t had before: That he will run out of people in his life that actually knew his dad. How sad for you, for him. Congratulations to you and all your followers and their impending graduations.
    Remember how proud your dad was and know that he wouldn’t ever want you to be sad.
    I’m sorry for the wounds that can never be truly healed.

  16. Anne Saffron said on July 24, 2010 at 3:18 am ... #

    “But it’s even more than all of that. It’s realizing that he never knew me as a teenager, and will never know me as an adult. That he will have missed all of my “graduations,” from elementary, middle, and high school. It’s the fact that I’ve made decisions about my future and am moving on to create my own life. A life he will never know. ”

    This really made the tears flow. I graduated in the class of 09′ and not having my father see it. It tore my heart. At least I have my wonderful mother.
    My dad missed all of these things. I had to grow up into what I am without him. He never saw me as a teenager. He will never see me as an adult. He will never walk me down the isle. He will never see me as a mom. He will never meet his grandchildren. I am so broken right now.

  17. Joseph said on September 24, 2010 at 1:40 pm ... #

    Hey Sam! This article touched my heart & I can completely understand where you’re coming from. My father died in ‘99. He wasn’t around for my high school/college days. Wasn’t around for my high school/college sports games. It was hard seeing everyone else’s fathers enjoying a football game or just enjoying one another’s company. I know that you are still grieving for your loss & you will continue to. My father died when I was 13 in a house fire. So in one night, I lost my father & we lost our home. If any good came out of that horrific time of my life, it only made me a stronger person. This WILL make you a stronger person. Just remember your father is very, very proud of you. I don’t know you but I will say, I AM PROUD OF YOU! =] Stay strong & make him & the rest of your family proud. I can tell you’re a scholar from your article. You’ll be very successful. Have a blessed day.

  18. sandra said on February 27, 2011 at 6:00 am ... #

    The tears are flowing down my face.I too lost my Dad at a young age.I was 16,and he died of a massive heart attack.I know what its like to have all of your milestones,feel not “quite right” without him there.I am also a stepmom to a 17 year old girl,a senior,and her mom is in the end stages of cancer.I will be taking on the mother roll in her life,and can help her the best I can,however this is the deepest wound,and this will stay with her throughout her life.I still cry,and am reliving my own pain,just by watching her go through this.Life seems so unfair sometimes,but I must say my faith in God,and a strong support of family and friends helps…good luck to you,and all of us who suffer.God bless

  19. Tina said on May 16, 2011 at 10:34 pm ... #

    I lost my dad a day before my 10th birthday in 2006 and I graduate in like 3 years. It’s hard knowing he won’t be there to see me grow up and I just know he is looking down on me. But anyways goodluck.

  20. Cris said on May 26, 2011 at 8:22 pm ... #

    Thank you for sharing your feelings. I was trying to read something to help me help my daughter. She graduates tomorrow, her daddy died when she was 16, and she was a daddy’s girl. I feel for her, we both miss him very much, and I don’t know what I can do to make this hurt any better. I just try to be there for her. I will be placing the picture inside her cap so she will feel he is close to her. Once again, thank you, and I pray that you can find comfort, and know that he is proud of you.

  21. Vic said on June 27, 2011 at 5:30 am ... #

    My Elementary school (Grade 8) graduation is tomorrow. It’s not as important as High School graduation, but it was insanely important for my dad and I.

    This brought me to tears because my dad walked out on me and my mom, who has no job and no licence, two days ago without a goodbye. Yesterday, he text me saying “Sorry I’m missing grad. Call you when I can.”

    I just wanted him to be there.

  22. Cora said on September 6, 2011 at 9:39 am ... #

    I have a 9 yr old entering 5th grade. Today is the 1st day of school. Last night was difficult as my daughter again expressed to me that she pictured herself graduating Middle-school, high school and college with both her parents. Her dad passed away a month and a half ago. It was sudden in his sleep. I will save your article. Thank You for sharing.

  23. Eileen said on May 15, 2012 at 5:18 am ... #

    Hi Sam beautiful story about the loss of your father before graduation . I feel for you due in part that my mother isn’t here to see me graduate from college this Thursday night. My mother died in 2010 . As my graduation date gets closer and closer I feel lost w\o my mom not being here to see me graduate .It will be hard on me because she is not here to see this day and my dad and hopefully some members of my family will come to graduation on Thursday night . At least your mother was w\ you that night to share your happiness and that your father was w\ you in spirit like my mother will be w\me in spirit on Thursday night . Good luck in the future and move forward.

  24. Natalia said on May 12, 2013 at 7:05 pm ... #

    I graduate this June and my dad passed away when I was 11. Everything you said is exactly how I feel right now, and its not fair. Its hard to watch other people with nearly their entire families and I will only have my mom. I am so appreciative to have someone like her because she has pushed me and she helps to keep the memory of my dad alive. I always wonder what he would say

  25. j said on May 20, 2013 at 2:57 pm ... #

    my parents passed away while i was at college and i’m graduating in a few days, i’m not sure how to feel about them not being there. reading your post made me feel a little better…thanks for putting this out there.

  26. Faisal Rehman said on June 12, 2013 at 5:07 pm ... #

    So true.. Reminds me of my dad who was very proud of me at my graduation ceremony.. I too, at special occasions or even when I feel lost or empty, would wear his watch on my wrist. Tends to make me feel as if he is here with me..I miss him so much..Wish I could have told him how much I appreciated all that he had done for me..! May his soul rest in peace in paradise and that I may be with him there after I depart from this world..

  27. Paige said on March 4, 2014 at 6:32 am ... #

    I also lost my father in high school. The toughest part for me is knowing that I was a typical teenage brat to him and never really got to show him the more mature and grown up side of myself. While this is difficult, I know that I am a more grounded and compassionate person as a result of his passing,

  28. Daughter said on May 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm ... #

    I lost my father when i was 8 but it didnt hit me then as much as it does now. It kills me to know he’s not here to be a part of my success, failures, pain and joys… Im graduating from secondary school in a month and i’m missing him more than ever…

  29. ... said on May 30, 2014 at 5:03 pm ... #

    It’s really not fair, but no matter what we do our loved ones aren’t coming back. The hardest thing for me in the last (almost 8 years)IS accepting the fact that I will never see My Daddy again, never be able to feel safe and protected in a fathers hug, never see those tears of joy from his eyes when I make him proud. He won’t be there to protect me from the bad guys and teach me right from wrong. Even though my mother loves me more than anything and I love her a lot too… It’s still not the same. There is a feeling that one gets in a fathers company that no one else can make one feel. It’s awful to see the role destiny plays in daily life, if it is meant to happen, it will! They say time heals everything, but there are some wounds that even time can’t heal…

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