The last few weeks have been a series of "lasts" and "firsts" ...
Bethany's last day of high school
Bethany's last athletic practice (a big deal for a girl who has played three sports a year since seventh grade!)
Bethany's last ball game (which was a victory in the state championship softball game ... pictures to come in a future post!)
My last time to wash one of her uniforms
My last time to attend an academic or athletic awards banquet for one of my children
Bethany's first graduation gift
Bethany's first checking account
Bethany's first day of work (all those sports have kept her from ever having a real job!)
My first time to plan a graduation party
My first time to attend the graduation of one of my children (tomorrow night!)
My husband is the principal at our small high school, and he mentioned the other day that next year will be the first time he hasn't had one of his girls walking the halls of his school in eight years. There was just the smallest hint of sadness in his voice ... I know he'll miss seeing Bethany at school every day next year.
But what a contrast there is between this series of lasts and firsts and another series of lasts and firsts we endured four years ago.
Hannah's last day of high school in December of her junior year
Hannah's last cancer treatment
Hannah's last day at home when we left for the hospital in a mad rush
The last time any of her clothes came through the laundry
The last time we heard her voice
Our first meal at home with an empty chair
Our first time to attend church without her
Our first Christmas, birthday, Mother's Day, fill in the blank with any day you want, without her
Our first time to see her headstone in place
Our first family vacation without her
Even just the act of typing this latter list of lasts and firsts brings a heavy weight down upon me. My chest feels constricted, and it's harder to breathe. The pain associated with these events is still so intense.
But, there's a big difference between your child no longer walking the high school halls because she died of cancer and your child no longer walking the high school halls because she graduated.
The first list of lasts and firsts has been full of blessings. Walking through these events with Bethany has been one of the greatest joys of my life. I have loved every minute of watching her grow into a beautiful and godly young woman.
Would I appreciate these lasts and firsts with Bethany as much if I hadn't experienced those other lasts and firsts with Hannah?
I honestly don't think so. I have often said that I believe experiencing the unfathomable depths of grief expands one's capacity for experiencing true joy, and I'm finding that to be true.
So tomorrow night, when Brad calls her name, and Bethany walks across the stage and receives her high school diploma, there might be tears of joy in my eyes, but no tears of sadness or regret. I will be rejoicing that my daughter is healthy, that she is growing up, that she is committed to serving the Lord, and that she has a bright future ahead of her.
And her big sister will be smiling her beautiful smile up in Heaven.