A song at my daughter's college graduation made me cry. It's no surprise that I would be emotional as my firstborn, Christine, walked the lawn at the University of Virginia to receive her diploma. But the song that triggered my tears wasn't the one you might expect.
It wasn’t Promenade from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, the piece I processed the aisle to at my wedding twenty-five years before. It wasn’t Pomp and Circumstance, another favorite the band played, that always tugs at a mother’s heart (especially went it keeps recurring in a thirty-six-minute processional). But oddly, it was hearing Battle Hymn of the Republic that made me burst into tears.
Battle Hymn was my dad's favorite song, and Christine and her "Bumpa" shared such a special relationship that hearing it connected the two in a way that found me choking back sobs.
In Christine's junior year of high school, my dad's cancer returned with a vengeance, so the girls and I flew from Virginia to Seattle to say goodbye. In Dad’s hospital room, we ate ice cream bars (Dad’s favorite) and told stories.
Once at home, Dad’s kids and grandkids all watched the UW Huskies on TV and the next day cheered on the Seahawks. In hospice, Christine stayed by her grandpa’s bedside, never letting go of Bumpa’s hand.
My dad seemed to need her, but I couldn’t tell if it was because of her gentle and comforting presence or that he realized this was something she needed before saying goodbye for the last time.
Releasing Christine to put her on a plane back to school and home, was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
Christine was never the same after that last visit with Bumpa. In those five days, she grew up five years. She saw life and relationships with a new perspective, and she looked forward to change. She was ready to graduate from high school and put behind her teenage activities. She wanted to study nursing.
And now as she graduated, I longed for my dad to know that she had made it into a very select program and completed a tough academic course load, and that she was graduating with a job in the Neurosurgery Acute Care Unit at UVA Hospital. I wanted him to know that all the hours he had spent teaching her the letters of the alphabet, walking her to see the ducks, helping her drive his boat, instructing her to water ski, flying out to see her shows, consoling her by phone when she was stressed, then holding her hand as they said goodbye—resulted in her decision to continue caring for people long after he passed away.
I missed my dad. I wanted him sitting next to me on the lawn, holding my hand, celebrating her joy and sharing my pride.