Passages

Some twenty years ago Gail Sheehy published a book called Passages. It dealt with the various stages of growing up or, more properly, for those of us who went to college, maturing. You know, getting out of college, getting a job, getting married, having kids, changing jobs, getting unmarried, retiring. The whole panorama. And the author told of how we deal with these changes at various stages in our lives.

I've always been conscientious about going to wakes and funerals. It's the right thing to do. The family always appreciates it-much more than we realize. And it takes almost no effort.

If you buy into the validity of this concept you find yourself, at the beginning, going to wakes and funerals of people much older than yourself. Usually it's the parents of friends and neighbors. Occasionally there are the tragedies. Youngsters, often children of acquaintances and close friends. They always hurt. Mostly because our friends hurt. We learn about grief. These experiences remind us of the virtue of attending even for those we do not know well but because their families just appreciate our being there.

As we get older, mature if you will, the funerals and wakes are for those we know better, miss more and whose passing has a more marked effect. We feel the loss much more. The ceremony becomes more meaningful. That's about where I am now. I always try to go, and I find myself moved much more than before.

Enough, however, of morbidity. What prompted this column is not the wakes and funerals, but rather the happier occasions, the weddings and the graduations. In the spring I had the opportunity to attend both. And in the same way I am now moved more by the funerals, I am even more affected by these happy events. The words "joyous occasion" are no longer clichés. Because these events are so gratifying, I am even more committed to not missing a one.

Last May, through no fault of my own, one of my kids got a graduate degree. It was terrific. I was proud of him of course, but being in the presence of so many young adults filled with energy and enthusiasm was terrific. It was contagious. You watch them receive their diplomas and you're taken in by their optimism and their belief that the world is their oyster. You know that it will not play out for all of them in the long run, but for that moment everything is sunshine and roses.

After my son's graduation I was invited to a terrific wedding. A young neighbor, the friend of another son. The enthusiasm was the same and just as satisfying. You can't go to one of these things without feeling better about yourself.

Later in the month another neighbor invited us to their son's high school graduation party. A great kid. Bright. Accomplished. At or near the head of his class. Off to college in the fall. Absolutely on top of his game and bursting with the desire to leave home and begin his future. You envied his optimism and confidence. And then, another neighbor's children threw their mom a surprise party to celebrate her graduate degree. It was, as they say, all good.

The best, though, was the graduation party for the daughter of still another neighbor. She had received an associate's degree from a community college. No big deal to some, maybe, but for this kid-the personification of sweetness-it was a major accomplishment. She is special. And everyone in our neighborhood regards her in exactly that way. She had struggled to make it through high school. She had received special help from her devoted, indefatigable parents and several teachers who invested in her desire to succeed. Getting the degree took years. But she did it.

Being invited to her party was a privilege. Some altered travel plans to be there. Others re-arranged their own graduation parties to accommodate hers. There were hot dogs, jello molds, deviled eggs and a cooler of beer and soft drinks. That part wasn't special. Being there was. In a crazy way we all experienced the satisfaction of what she had accomplished.

In contrast to much of what we do or endure, these events are refreshing, uplifting and more energizing than a double espresso, the apparent "in" drink of the moment. The effect may last only as long as the ceremony, reception, or party or, if we're lucky, a bit longer.

I'm still going to be conscientious about attending the wakes and the funerals; but, barring a calamity, I'm not going to pass up a graduation or wedding anytime soon.