Just a few weeks later, our family had two graduations to celebrate. My brother was graduating from college with plans to head to veterinary school. His graduation was first. My brother worked with the local branch of The American Cancer Society to secure a wheelchair so our mom could more easily attend the commencement.
After we arrived, I vividly saw how fragile she had become and for the first time, I was fearful that she might die from this cancer that had interfered so savagely with our lives. For me, the day was tense and fraught with worry. I watched as my mom struggled to be comfortable, to breathe, to have the energy to be present and enjoy the occasion. She wore a favorite dress of hers—navy, past the knee, flared at the bottom, with white trim, almost a nautical theme. It was a special dress for a special day.
The graduation weekend took a toll on her physically. Later that week, she was admitted to the hospital with my high school graduation just days away. All I wanted at that moment was for her to be able to attend my graduation.
A long-standing tradition at my public high school was for the girls to wear long white dresses while carrying red roses. The boys wore dark suits with red ties. Finding a long white dress, that no one else found, was the goal.
My friends and their moms shopped together and I was devastated to be accomplishing this important task on my own. I waited too long and remember buying literally whatever was left. My graduation day came, and my mom was still in the hospital, unable to attend. I know she was sad to miss it.
I was angry that my brother’s graduation took so much of her energy that she couldn’t come to mine. I was angry that my friends all had stunning gowns that their moms helped them find. I was angry that when I walked into the football stadium, where I had performed on the sidelines and mid-field for years, my mom wasn’t there to help me get ready, to see me, to think I looked beautiful in a dress we shopped for together.
I scanned the handicapped section of seating, where I had to get special tickets for her to be in a wheelchair, just in case my family was able to surprise me and get her there. That is my strongest memory of the day I graduated from high school—looking to the roped-off section on the track for wheelchairs and scanning desperately for her.
Not spotting her, the rest of the day was a tearful fog. My family tried. When my name was called, and I walked across the stage to get my diploma, in my slightly wrinkled gown, they cheered maybe louder than any other group in the stadium and that made me smile. They saw me.