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No matter where we are in life, the first day of school means something to us. Maybe you’re sending someone off to Kindergarten for the first time, or off to their senior year in college- maybe you’re teaching for the eleventh year, remembering your first day of sixth grade, or beginning your umpteenth year of grad school. Yes, no matter where we are in life, the first day of school holds at the same time unbridled hope for newness, anxiety about the uncertain, and nostalgia for all that has been.

This first day of school holds something else altogether for our family.

As I snapped the obligatory first-day photos this morning, I realized there is someone special I won’t get to share them with. My mother-in-law died of pancreatic cancer in April, so Nana won’t get to see today’s smiles and mix-matched socks, nor hear stories of how Skyler confidently sat down with the 2’s and began naming shapes. Nana, not unlike most grandmothers, was their biggest cheerleader. This morning as I looked down at the family chain, I was stung with the realization there would be no more firsts to share with Nana. In fact, on their first day of Pre-K and 2’s, some of her ashes are being spread by her husband in a place she loved dearly, Steamboat Springs, Colorado. 

At Ann’s (Nana’s) funeral, the Ram Dass quote “We’re all just walking each other home” was shared. While it’s a stunningly beautiful quote, I’m angry our walk with Ann on this Earth was shorter than I’d imagined. We’ve been navigating the loss of a grandparent with three small kids for several months now, so I wasn’t prepared for today’s dropoff to affect me as it did. Alas, every first will now include a sting of grief. It will also include the poignant reminder of our ephemeralness. 

I’ve been pondering our new “firsts” since this morning. What can the reminder of our ephemeralness do? I’m still figuring this out (and likely will be for some time). But today, it pushes me to remember with gratitude those that have come before us. To stop the race up the school steps to show a picture of Nana, and say, Nana loved you so much and is proud of you. It calls me to create with urgency the world I imagine, and it reminds me that we are never one-dimensional. At every first, we each bring a myriad of circumstances and emotions. Might this help us show one another a bit of grace?

As we face firsts this fall and throughout our lives, I have no pretty bow of a therapy quote to present you.  But after reaching to text Nana this morning and being met with a sting of grief, I do have some thicker skin. Skin that, if flexed well, will help walk all of us home.


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