It's a time of happiness and accomplishment as students all over the Tristate graduate high school. It doesn't seem that long ago that I graduated myself. For me, it was a little sad because I had such an awesome experience. But, what if you didn't have a great and positive experience while in high school? It can become moments of harsh life lessons that you can't wait to leave behind.

For my youngest son, high school has been anything but high. It has been, mainly, a time of extreme lows. A time when he had to face death in multiple ways, confront his demons, learn to regain some sense of confidence and learn to love himself again.

When I look back, it was a cycle of events that started when he was a small child and his father and I got a divorce. He was so confused and angry, yet he had no idea how to deal with his feelings. I thought, since he was so young, he would be the one who would come out of the whole ugly ordeal unscarred, but I was very wrong. His anxiety disorder reared its ugly head during this very vulnerable and emotional time.

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I made so many mistakes during the years that followed. I thought that I could help him with his anxiety because I too suffered from the disorder my entire life. I was wrong. Sports became his outlet and distraction from his anxiety and gave him an identity.

In elementary school, and middle school he was an award-winning, star athlete and an amazing leader to his peers, which all who knew him admired. He had a light inside of him that was undeniable. He was smart, artistic, funny, and super outgoing.

As he had just started high school, everything changed. During a  football game in September of his freshman year, he was seriously injured during a game against Apollo. During a defensive tackle, one of his fellow teammates accidentally rammed his helmet into his side causing his spleen to rupture on the field. Unable to wait for an ambulance, we rushed him to the hospital emergency room having no idea just how much all of our lives would change.

He was rushed back for emergency surgery and the nurses and doctors told us to pray that they could save his life. They explained to us just how serious it was and it felt like a nightmare. My husband, his dad, all his coaches, and I sat out in the waiting room not knowing how the night would end. I made several trips to the chapel praying that my wonderful boy would be spared. Little did I know, I would be in a hospital chapel two more times during his time in high school while he fought for his life, again and again.

After the accident and surgery, it took him a long time to heal both physically and emotionally. My once strong and athletic son became weak and frail. He was out of school and home for weeks, isolated from his friends. He became distant and understandably depressed. His freshman football team was the last team he would be a part of and the team and coaches honored his athleticism and work ethic with a final trophy.

Other than a few of his very close friends, the friends he had on his sports teams, didn't come around. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. Even after he healed completely, he wasn't invited to sleepovers or parties. Those boys and their parents taught him a hurtful lesson about people, one I wish he hadn't learned so early. He needed a village to help him heal and the village forgot about him.

I set him up with a therapist to help him talk through his feelings. but, one has to be honest with a therapist in order for them to be able to help. He didn't want to go, so he didn't open up to the therapist and it was a waste of time. During that time, he started to self-medicate. He was looking for something to numb the pain that he was feeling. He had lost himself and was trying to find who he was in the wrong places and the wrong ways.

Then, the pandemic hit, and that meant even more isolation. He started failing his classes and just not caring about what happened to him. Luckily, out of all of the friends he lost, there emerged an incredible group of guys and one particular girl that have been his saviors. One, in particular, never left his side, even at the hospital.

Now, as we look back at his four years of high school, it seems like a lifetime has gone by. We learned to focus on the small victories, the things that others take for granted. The days of touchdowns, blocking, jumping and trophies are over and have been over for a long time. They were replaced with a personal enlightenment journey to manhood.

After much thought and consideration, he has decided to walk at graduation. He had originally told me he had no desire to and felt no connection with his high school. But, I am so happy that he has decided to be a part of it and have no regrets. You only graduate from high school once and you can't get the moment back if you let it pass you by.

When I called the school today to make sure everything was in order for this week's graduation, I started crying on the phone. She said she was worried because of his grades that he wouldn't graduate and her tone was a little condescending like he was a bad kid who just didn't care about school. I wanted to shout through the phone, He was a good kid and still is a good kid!,  I felt compelled to tell her who he used to be, I told her she didn't know him and that he had a lifetime of struggle in four short years. I explained to her how proud I was that we had made it to this point, D's or A's, it didn't matter to me. I'm proud of him no matter what. She agreed. I guess I didn't give her much choice. I'm sure she thinks I'm insane.

My son is every star in the sky to me. He has proven that his light shines even through the darkest of times. He has been through Hell and back and my heart will burst with pride on graduation night when he walks with his class to mark this milestone in his life. What I have figured out recently is that he is still everything he used to be and so much more. He has discovered things about himself, through his struggles, that he would not have experienced otherwise.

His journey toward a positive personal transition and enlightenment is far from over, but at least he can see light. It's taken 4 1/2 years for him to recover from his injury, both mentally and physically. His light is the same light it used to be, it only shines differently now. And, it gets brighter every day.

I'm so proud of the boy he used to be, the young man he is today, and the man he will be tomorrow. Very few who are seated, watching the graduation, will know that we almost lost him so many times, but I will know and now you do too.


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