These days, family milestones can feel like a double-edged sword. On one end, I’m in the zone, smiling and celebrating away with everyone, on the other, I’m struggling, holding back the pain of missing my parents. I can’t help it. That’s just how I roll when it comes to monumental moments. Over the course of nine years since my parents’ passing, I’ve finally come to accept my double-edged sword trusting that my family and I will somehow, someway be comforted through their heavenly hellos.
Two weeks ago, my oldest son, Nathan, graduated from high school. Amidst the joyful hoopla of seeing him walk the stage, I found myself longing for my parents. MiMi and Grandpa would be so proud, I thought. If only I could see the looks on their faces, see them hugging and loving on him. Man! They’d be all over this.
My parents had a beautiful way of treating each grandchild like gold, and Nathan was no exception. From the first time they held him in the delivery room just minutes after he was born, MiMi and Grandpa maintained a near-perfect attendance record cheering him on through the years of growth and development, birthday celebrations, school activities, and sporting events.
My Mom was always a step ahead in the doting department, noticing things about Nathan that my young, tired mommy-self would sometimes overlook. “You’re so handsome,” Mom would say, gazing at him. “I just love your dark hair next to your fair skin.” Or, “Look at his beautiful eyes- those are the eyes of an old soul.” She would study his cute little gestures and mirror them back anytime she felt inspired to speak fondly of him —which was quite often.
His interests became her interests, resulting in numerous hours of watching Looney Toons and Blues Clues and eating her homemade chocolate chip cookies.
During Nathan’s younger years, Mom was never fazed by his repetitive renditions of Scooby Doo episodes, even as he stammered through them with his childhood speech impediment. “Is that right?” she would reply, ever so patient and engaged. “Wow! Really? And then what?” I often found myself mesmerized by his wide-eyed expressions as he talked with her through his sweet smile. She even doted over his nickname, Pappasito, pronouncing each syllable like a sweet melody anytime he was in her loving presence.
A few days before graduation, Nathan came home from school and made a beeline for my bedroom. In that same wide-eyed, talking- through- his- smile, little boy manner, he blurted out, “Hey Mom, I dreamed of MiMi last night aaand I’m pretty sure it was a visit!” (Since Nathan doesn’t remember his dreams, I had a gut feeling that what he was about to say was going to be the real deal.) Bracing myself, I watched him light up as he recounted his dream. “Okay, so I walked into Grandpa’s study room, and I saw MiMi sitting there in his chair. She looked sick and had an oxygen tube in her nose. I got scared and walked away. I heard her voice calling out to me from the kitchen. When I walked in there, she was standing near the stove, no tubes or anything. She looked good, like she did before she died. She was smiling and told me not to worry, that she was okay.”
“We kept hugging each other for a long time.’ Nathan continued, “I remember thinking in the dream, this can’t be real, but I knew it was. I wish I could tell you what she was saying when we were hugging, but I can’t remember. All I know is that I felt her love.”
Right before I was about to totally lose it, Nathan chuckled, “Oh, after we hugged, she told me she bought me and Natalie hot dogs from Sonic and that I should let Natalie use the bigger TV tray.” We both laughed, knowing that as warped as the ending sounded, there was a sense of reality to it — buying fun fast food treats for the grandkids and consideration towards his sister were definitely MiMi’s thing.
After we finished dissecting each scene of his dream — though really I was the one doing all the analysis — I hugged Nathan through tears of joy. “You’re right, MiMi did come visit you. Wow! How awesome is that? Leave it to MiMi to give her Pappasito an early graduation gift.”
I honestly thought that Nathan’s big dream was the be-all and end-all of Heavenly Hellos to commemorate his big day. I was wrong.
Throughout the entire graduation ceremony, I did my best to embrace my double-edged sword, allowing the mixture of joyful and sad thoughts and tears to flow as they came. When the ceremony was over, my sister-in-law eagerly commented to me, “Hey, did you see that lady in front of us while we were walking down? She looked just like your mom.” I immediately began scanning the area like a hawk, but the woman was nowhere to be found.
Minutes later, as we family stood under a tree waiting for the new graduate to make his grand appearance, my sister pointed towards a branch hovering over our heads. “Look at those two redbirds!” There in plain view were a male and female cardinal chirping away. If you know my family and me, you know redbirds are a special sign from heaven reminding us that our dearly departed are with us in spirit. There was no denying that we all felt comforted by my parents’ perfectly timed Heavenly Hello.
Once we got home, Nathan surprised the heck out of me when he asked, “Do you think you can take me by the cemetery next week so that I can visit MiMi and Grandpa? I want to wear my cap and gown — you know, to show them that I did it.” The flood gates opened once again as I processed his simple yet heartfelt request. “Sounds like a good idea. Yes,baby, I will take you.”
Last week, I honored Nathan’s wish and drove him to the cemetery. On the way there, I prayed in preparation that I wouldn’t break down. After all, this was to be HIS moment — not a moment when he had to turn around and comfort me.
What happened when we arrived at the mausoleum was a scene that will forever be ingrained in my heart. As Nathan stood in front of his Mimi and Grandpa’s crypt, he started talking away thanking his MiMi and Grandpa for all they’ve done for him since he was a little boy and for being with him in spirit. Shocked, I quickly began recording the moment on video. I imagined my parents standing there in front of him, beaming with pride through their watery eyes and quivering chins.
Nathan ended his impromptu speech by waving his diploma in the air: “I made it!” he declared. I graduated! I knew you were there. I miss you.” As he his blew a kiss in the air, he simply said, “ I love you.”
Our tears were quiet as we hugged each other. “I’m so proud of you, Pappasito. I know MiMi and Grandpa are proud of you too.” (I saved my ugly cry for later.)
When we got into the car, I looked at him and asked, “If MiMi and Grandpa were the ones bringing you to the cemetery right now for an occasion like this, what would they probably do next?” Nathan quickly answered, “MiMi would either make chocolate chip cookies or they would take me to get some ice cream.”
Mimicking their special language of love, I drove Nathan to the nearby Baskin Robbins. There, we toasted our containers filled with double and triple-scooped ice cream in celebration of the never-ending love between the graduate and his grandparents.