family, reflection

A Season of All Things

This summer I attempted to do the impossible.

If you read my blog post “Immersed,” or viewed my social media posts, you know that my summer has been a whirlwind of grand proportions. Each month brought major life events and celebrations, many of which occur only once in a lifetime.

June spotlighted my middle child, Daniel, as he graduated high school, attended a multitude of celebrations for his friends who also graduated, and enjoyed a weeklong Beach Week vacation with twelve of his closest friends (including his dad, who chaperoned the trip, one week after his 50th birthday.) We also welcomed the arrival of our nephew’s son, Vaelyn, the first great-grandchild for Grandpa Letter.

Daniel and friends at Beach Week, celebrating their high school graduation.
I loved holding baby Vaelyn for the first time!

July was my only month away from school and I disconnected entirely from all things work-related to fully immerse in the last summer I would have Daniel home. We prepared for his transition to college attending new student admission day, purchasing items for his dorm, and completing the paperwork needed to secure grants and scholarships awarded the months before. We also enjoyed visiting local attractions: strolling through Maymont Park, sliding down water slides at Cobblestones, riding roller coasters at Busch Gardens, and eating our fill of hot dogs watching the Richmond Squirrels team play ball.

Our family at Busch Gardens, ready to ride roller coasters!

We celebrated my daughter’s upcoming wedding with a bridal shower hosted by her aunts, Debbie and Dee, then rounded out the month with a family road trip to Florida. Following our 12-hour drive to the Sunshine State, we spent the night in a local hotel, then boarded a Disney Cruise the next morning, making sure to bring onboard dozens of gifts we made to bless others as part of the Fish Extenders exchange.

Katrina and I at her bridal shower.
Caleb adding gifts to another family’s Fish Extender on the Disney Cruise.

Unfortunately, as July transitioned to August and my summer break came to a close, we began the new month battling the effects of COVID, which knocked me down and out for a solid week, and impacted Katrina and Brennan, too. Despite the rough start, there were many opportunities for joy as our calendar was yet again packed with milestone moments.

Daniel planned a host of excursions with his friends as a “last hurrah” to their high school years: ax throwing, hiking in the mountains, Top Golf, sleepovers, and lots of pizza at Stevie B’s. Both of my boys enjoyed a “Bachelor Weekend” of events with Brennan and his groomsmen, while I was invited to attend a “Bridesmaid’s Tea” at The Jefferson Hotel with Katrina and her bridesmaids, along with Brennan’s mom and stepmom.

“The Crew” celebrating their last week together.
The Bridesmaid’s Tea at The Jefferson Hotel

As we looked toward the end of August, we felt the compression of time as major life events converged: celebrating Grandpa Letter’s 75th birthday, moving Daniel into college, and watching Katrina transition from fiance to wife on her wedding day.

Then, without warning, tragedy struck.

We received a text message from the mom of Daniel’s good friend, Efe, that he was found dead near the high school track the boys had run on the past four years.





Our month suddenly spiraled into the depths of an emotional abyss as we added more dates to our calendar: community vigil, visitation, funeral, and burial.

In the final week of August, we experienced extreme highs and lows. We gathered photos and stories of Efe and met as a “Mom Crew” to create a 54-page scrapbook for his mom. We moved our son into college. We then welcomed him back home the next day to prepare for Efe’s funeral. During the ceremony, Daniel and others shared stories of their adventures (which dated back to seventh grade), then he and his friends served as pallbearers, carrying the body of their dear friend to his final resting place.

The boys stood at the graveside, their arms draped around each other’s backs, watching every step of the burial.

The lowering of the coffin.

The flowers placed on top by family members.

The drapery removed from the ground.

The tilting of the dump truck piling dirt to fill in the space between the coffin and the ground.

The raking of dirt across the top of the grave.

Then my son and his friends returned to college as if it was a normal start to their freshman year.

The day after the funeral, Daniel attended Convocation, then returned to us for “Wedding Weekend” as a groomsman in his sister’s wedding two days later.

Even as I write this recollection, my fingers pause on the keys with tears streaming down my face; the emotions still raw and heavy on my heart.

A complete shift required to move forward.

The wedding weekend was incredible. From the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner to the wedding itself, it was a time of love, joy, and celebration. As a parent, this was the culmination of nearly 24 years of hopes, dreams, and prayers for our daughter, our firstborn, wrapped in a veil of white with a bouquet of lavender roses by her side.

Our princess had found her prince and now they were joined in matrimony.

What. A. Week.

Introducing Mr. and Mrs. Thaler!

Today is the last day of summer. I sit here watching the sunset across the horizon, and I’m struck by all that has happened in only three months.

How does one carry the highest of highs and the lowest of lows?

I don’t have an adequate answer.

You just do.

When summer began in June, I believed it would be a season of all things.

What it actually became, however, was a season of letting go.

Letting go of perfection.

Letting go of expectations.

Letting go of those we love.

The months ahead will continue to bring milestone events into our lives. I will celebrate my 50th birthday. My youngest child will get braces. New family traditions will be created. We will forge a path of “new normal” and continue on.

My hope for this fall season is one of simplicity:

To remember the blessings we’ve received.

To recognize the joy in each day.

To remind others that they are loved.

Life is so very short.

May we embrace each day with appreciation for what we have and what’s to come.

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