In child loss, milestones are sharp knives to your heart. A reminder of what didn’t get to be. Each life event makes the absence greater because you wonder what it would have been like if they were here. And so, this was not just another graduation; it was another milestone in loss.
Milestones those first few years were the hardest. Austin passed when he was 14, just after he entered high school, so there so many major moments he missed out on. I watched tearfully as friends celebrated first dances, driver licenses and cars, teenage jobs, prom and graduations.
Not seeing him drive was one for which the stinging lingered because we knew how much he looked forward to it.
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He asked (and begged) me to let him drive every time we went anywhere. I tried to explain to him that a dirt path on our family farm wasn’t the same as a highway, where we sometimes let him drive.
However, one day, I broke down and took him to a nearby training center, with a large gravel parking lot and fenced in, which felt the safest option. When we arrived, I parked and walked around to his side, waiting. His face lit up when he discovered I was letting him drive. I can still vividly remember that smile. We both laughed that day about all the fun he would have when he turned 16 and could drive on a real road. Such a sweet memory for me since he never got the chance.
In 2012, Austin should have graduated high school. Instead, his baby brother walked the line for him. Noah was only 12 at the time, a baby face but the maturity of a young man. We didn’t pressure him, it was his honor to do for his big brother, who he loved and missed so very much. It was not just another graduation; it was another milestone in loss.
Although we were there, it was a milestone Austin didn’t get to have. Our hearts were heavy but it was a bittersweet blessing for our family. Though part of me wanted to run and shut down from that event, I’m glad we went.
This past Memorial Day weekend our youngest walked the line for himself. Our baby’s High School graduation. A milestone we were able to celebrate joyfully, but one we still felt the absence of his big brother. Had Austin been there, we know he would have been yelling from the stands and cheering him on. He’s no doubt proud of his little brother. We are too.
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Perhaps it is the passing of time, as he’s been gone almost ten years. Or, it is because, at this point, Austin would be grown, but the milestones are less present and painful now. We will always wonder and yearn for what could’ve been but at a place where we are grateful for the 14 years we were given.