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Starting last August, the social media posts of parents celebrating their high school seniors began. For my own mental health, I had to mute a few friends so I wouldn’t see their posts.

There have been, and I assume there will continue to be, many painful reminders that my son Jake should be experiencing, but isn’t. Jake should be a senior looking forward to graduating and starting college, but he can’t. He died in a car accident two years ago when he was 16.

These missed milestones are hard to endure, but I have no choice. Last year, Adam’s son graduated from high school and Adam was the only one to acknowledge how difficult it must be for me to endure. We were selective with which parties we attended. Jake’s best friend, AJ, graduated last year, but he didn’t want a party. I was grateful for this, because I’m AJ’s second mom and would not have missed it, as difficult as it would have been for me.

This year may be harder. There’s zero ability for me to predict my grief response. Just when I think I will be fine, I’m not. 

My friend Lisa was the first person to ask me how she could honor Jake at her daughter’s graduation party. The short answer is: Kierstin’s graduation party is about Kierstin. These are parties that I have the option to attend. I won’t miss certain ones, for the kids — and parents — whom I love the most, which includes Kierstin. This doesn’t make these events any easier, but this is my problem, not theirs.

Lisa asked what I think would be the best way to honor Jake.

My answer: I would like to see kids who died (regardless of cause) honored in a In Memoriam slide show during graduation ceremonies and mentioned in the program. To ignore their existence is hurtful and rude. If a parent wishes to opt out of their child being included, that is their choice, but I think the default should be inclusion.

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My daughter and oldest son’s graduation ceremonies were top tier productions. The videos and celebrations shared during the event were awesome. They both graduated from Fishers High School (Fishers, IN) and I was very impressed from start to finish. These events are on a “rinse and repeat” cycle, and yet each was inclusive and personal to the graduating class. There was a strong sense of cohesion and having been an athletic mom and having several ties to the school, I loved each of their final send-offs. The only thing I can’t remember is if an In Memoriam was included in the program.

I did notice that an In Memoriam was not included in my stepson’s graduation last year. In fact, I had high hopes for his school’s graduation program, given what I experienced with my kids (a superior rival high school), and was severely disappointed. Their production quality was a joke — as if it was thrown together by amateurs a day in advance. I was shocked, given the school’s reputation. But I digress…

Kids are resilient, and grief is a part of everyone’s life, whether they like it or not. Healthy ways to honor others should be considered. Fishers is a city that embraces mental health concerns, and grief is definitely one of those emotions that falls under this umbrella. I hope they embrace my request (if they don’t already incorporate this).

I’m super grateful to Lisa for a number of reasons, not the least of which for her sensitivity, her friendship, her love, and her curiosity about how I feel about the upcoming graduation season and how she can ease my emotional burden.



  1. I just wanted you to know that I read this article with deep understanding and sympathy for all of the parents like yourself who’ve lost children. My brother died in the fall of his senior year and a wonderful memorial in his honor was set up in the high school gym with his retired football jersey #73 and a plaque, honoring him in perpetuity. To my knowledge it’s still there, reminding future generations about who Greg Cole was. Carolyn

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