A lot of people in my social media timelines have graduations in their families. They are posting pictures and offering congratulations and reminiscing about the day when the graduating senior was born. It’s a time for happiness.

For our extended family, another sort of graduation happened this morning. My great-uncle, who was a kind of grandfather to me, has been suffering, dealing with, enduring cancer for not quite a year. They found it very late. He got to the graduation day of one of his granddaughters last night. This morning he had a graduation of his own.

My youngest daughter Abby asked if I was sad that “Daddy J,” as I always knew him, was gone. I told her yes, I was sad–but not the kind of terrible sadness that comes from a shocking death that cuts a life short, the grief for time together lost. This was the kind of sadness one feels perhaps at a graduation. At graduations we reflect on the time, and we miss the child we held in our arms on the way home from the hospital. But we are proud of all that they have become. We know they have a grand future before them, and really that their life is just beginning.

It’s not like we won’t see them again. He was already, as with all graduates, looking forward to the next stage. He told his hospice nurse he was growing his wings and “getting ready to fly outta here.” Others said he spent times staring up at the ceiling and talking to people only he could see. That is the sad bit of this separation: there are many waiting for him there, and they will go on and have years of fellowship and shared adventures we will miss out on, just as we will here–as if he went and lived on the other side of the world for a few years, and we will join him later. That’s sad for us now, but it’s not an endless sadness.

So for those of us in a time of many graduations, hold tight to the hope. A million years from now this brief separation will be a distant memory, but we will still be alive. What a glorious thing we look forward to!

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