It seems like it was just last year when I included in our family Christmas letter the words, “This year we will have three children under the age of three.” But that was three preschools, three kindergartens, three lower school commencements, and three graduations ago. Yes, the days were long, and the years were short—way too short. And, for this father of three females, the days were never long enough. When I looked into the face of my firstborn, I knew the days would be way too short. And they were.
Within three years, we threw Mary Claire, Caroline, and Sarah Kate graduation parties at their uncle’s farm and soon after packed them up and drove them off to new campuses far enough away for them to do their thing but close enough to get to them quickly if needed. Since then we’ve logged thousands of miles on the odometer, sometimes for crisis intervention, but mostly to check in and hang out.
WHEN EVERYTHING STOPPED
Then the Bennett family odometers stopped turning. After spring break at the beach, the girls came home and never went back to school. It was unexpected, confusing, sad, frustrating, and unwanted by my girls.
In late March we were told that my daughter’s class would walk and receive their diplomas but not on the original May date. So, we got to vote on the future date: August prior to the beginning of the fall semester, homecoming weekend, or as part of December’s graduation. August it was. We booked reservations at Gianmarco’s, brunch the next day, and made sure out-of-town family had a place to stay. Our work was done—and so was our daughter’s, since the final seven weeks of classes were completed online.
This wasn’t what my girls had planned or wanted. Not only were they missing community, but they were unable to work their jobs. Relationships and finances dwindled. It was small consolation that every student in the world was in a similar predicament.
So, we made the best of it. We graduated Caroline on our back deck with perfect weather, a charcuterie board, and the same cast of characters who would have been in attendance at her once-May-now-turned-August ceremony. It was nice, but it wasn’t on campus with peers and speeches and the symbolic walk that she had taken her first week of class. It was sad, but at least she would process with her class, late though it may be.
DELAYED GRADUATION AND THE NEW NORMAL
Then the news came. There would be no in-person commencement. Not in August. Not ever. There would be a video you could watch that would digitally launch you into your career. Not the same. Not interested. It was a good thing we had celebrated her. And she did have her diploma shipped to her in a tube that has remained unopened for months. (Who knows? Caroline may open it to find that she has been mistakenly awarded a Ph.D. instead of the B.S. she earned. A bright spot at the conclusion of her academic journey would be good.) But there wasn’t much good for any of my college girls.
So that’s how things went from Friday the 13th in March until mid-August. Then, some semblance of their old normal returned. The girls were permitted to return to campus to complete their undergraduate degrees and to begin a master’s. But the return was lower than low-key—and lonely.
At first, the only personal interaction was the mandatory COVID test. Then the decision to move classes online kept them isolated. Living in dorms would have created more community, but our girls live off-campus. Off campus is a great place to be when you need to get away, but it can be a terrible place when the only people you’ve seen for the past five months are your parents. Even now, my college girls have only two in-person classes between the three of them. Classes of masked bandits.
A SEPARATE GRIEF AND REASON TO REJOICE
Now my daughters are dealing with it. They’re making the best of it. “It” is not at all welcome. And they’ve grieved. They’ve grieved over lost time, lost once-in-a lifetime experiences, and lost dreams of what they thought it would have been like. And I grieve with them.
I also grieve apart from them, not only because we are now separated by the miles because of “it.” My grief has been over the end of those five months, those amazing 163 days when we were quarantined. Together. As a family. At the dinner table enjoying more meals together than we had for years. I heard their hearts and was able to listen, really listen. I even learned the names of some of the boys in my girls’ lives.
We discussed the frustrating present and the unpredictable future. We cried a little but laughed more. The longest distance we traveled was to the mailbox. Sarah Kate power-washed the deck and patio. All three pitched in. Mary Claire was able to go back to work and was rewarded with two promotions and pay hikes in the eye of the storm of the pandemic. It was a loud house again, just the way I like it.
None of this caught God off guard. He knew that after the tears of bidding three daughters goodbye, that they would come back. But I never would have imagined how. The days were long, but the months were short, way too short.