something missing graduation

You did it, single mom. Graduation is here and you helped this little bird get ready to leave the nest. That’s your job, right? To work yourself out of a job. Except this day is so much heavier, so much harder alone.

I stood in the kitchen after the party, putting leftovers away. A sadness slowly crept up onto me in the quiet house. There should have been someone here for me to process this day with—the joy, the bittersweet moments, the chaos of people all around, the overwhelming stress of being responsible for everyone’s enjoyment of the day. But he’s gone. He didn’t get to be here for any of Jarod’s high school experience. Kraig died suddenly in the second week of Jarod’s freshman year.

There have been many times over the past four years that I have thought, “He’s missing this.” They have gotten less as the years have marched on. But tonight was a big one: high school graduation. This should have been a night he was part of. This should have been a night that he was here to point out all the great things of a son growing up to balance all the weepy things a mom wrestles with. But it wasn’t.

On this special day I smiled and I juggled 15 family members—my kids and all the relatives who traveled so far and made him feel so loved with their attendance. I stressed and arranged the party room and asked for help getting last-minute things. I squared my shoulders and took care of what needed to be done. I decorated and I fought with a terrible hair day. Seriously, the 80s sent a Ghost of Hairstyles Past to haunt me. It was touch and go for a while but the flat iron saved the day.

I sat and cheered as he walked across the stage. I was so proud. I am so proud. And I’m so excited for this next phase in his life.

My son is amazing. I adore the young adult he’s grown up to be. I love his habit of telling me all about his day each night. I hear about things he’s learned and who he talked to and what was hard about the day. This unpacking of his day helps him unwind. But it also lets me be a witness to his life—something I have cherished for the last few years that he’s done it. And now it’s almost done.

This summer I will drive him to college 13 ½ hours away and leave him to bravely start a new adventure. And the thought of that this week has made it hard to breathe. It has brought tears to my eyes and driven me to pray for God to go with him. And it has made me remember his father, the man who would have chuckled with a few tears in his eyes too as we drove away from dropping him off. The man who would have told me it was all going to be OK and to celebrate that we only have three more birds to launch before we get to live a care-free life of traveling and enjoying an empty nest.

So to the widowed or single mom wrestling with all of this at graduation, I am sending you love. You may sit there feeling alone, but you are not the only one. There are more like you, like me. If this graduation brings uncertainty, you are not alone.

But you need to remember something: you are graduating too.

You raised this child for at least part of their lives on your own. You made decisions and rules that helped craft the character this child displays. You kept them fed and loved and cared for and didn’t strangle them during that “fun” phase. You prayed for them and tried to ensure good people were present in their life. You did that.

I’m a firm believer in not taking too much credit or blame for our kids. They are humans who own their own accomplishments and need to learn from their mistakes. God created them, not me, and He’s got plans for them I can’t even fathom. But I also know I provided a lot of support for them to get here. And for that I deserve a bit of maternal pride. So do you.

And you, like me, might need to take a minute and mourn how you hoped this day could have gone. It’s okay to take a minute to be sad sometimes. Sadness doesn’t have to diminish the joy. Whether you are a widow, like me, wrestling with the grief of death or you sit alone due to a divorce you never would have dreamed would overshadow this day, it’s okay to process that. Just don’t stay there.

Focus on the joy of having done your job. Focus on the exciting next chapter about to begin in your life and your child’s life. Focus on the way your relationship will change with having an adult child. I’ve heard they go out for coffee dates and they don’t crawl under the table when you’re there. I’ve also heard that they still need us—just differently. I hope so.

Being a single mom at graduation time was not what I ever imagined for myself. But here I am and I can’t change that. Neither can you. But we can choose how we walk through it and where we focus our hearts. I trust God with this next chapter of my life and my son’s life–especially because it feels scary. But he’s a pretty amazing young man and that makes my heart all kinds of happy.

Are you a single mom struggling with graduation? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.








  1. Tammy June 1, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    This is exactly what I needed to read – I lost my husband in April after a two month battle in ICU (the only other time he had been in the hospital was when he was born). He was 52 when he entered the ICU and 53 plus one week when he passed. We share two beautiful children, 15 year old son and 12 year old daughter. I cannot help as we go through life events to think of what he is missing and at times wondering if we will make it. All I can say is with faith, family and friends we will find the strength that we each need. Thank you again for the encouraging words.

    • Jenn Buell June 1, 2017 at 3:53 pm

      Oh Tammy, my heart hurts for you and your fresh grief. Thank you for sharing and reaching out! May you feel God walking through this time with you. My kids were 15, 13, 11, and 5 when my husband died. I get it. You can do this. God knew what he was doing when he gave YOU these kids. Praying peace, comfort, and strength.

  2. Denise Pass June 1, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    You paint the pain of single motherhood so well, friend! It is a pain many do not understand unless they have walked in those shoes. Thank you!

    • Jenn Buell June 1, 2017 at 6:30 pm

      Thank you so much, Denise. I know I didn’t understand before becoming one.

      • Denise Pass June 1, 2017 at 7:26 pm

        I didn’t either. Painful process, but a softened heart that understands, now. Praise God!