Empty Arms Bereavement

The Start of School—Milestones Missed and Marked

Healing a Heart
By Sara Barry

“I can’t believe they’re starting 3rd grade. It goes so fast!”

When a mom I know said this a few weeks ago, I remembered back to the summer when those third graders were new. A baby boy, a baby girl, another baby boy with oxygen and Down syndrome.

I started letting go of the idea that my son would keep pace with his peers early on. I got ready to mark his own milestones, not measure them against others. But still, I assess where he’d be against these babies born within days of him. Eight-year-olds. Third graders.

A few years ago when Henry should have started kindergarten, I found myself sobbing in the dark one night in anticipation of this new first I would miss with him. Now, with the kids I thought would grow up with him on the cusp of third grade, I find myself sighing slightly when it comes ups. I hold it for a breath and move on.


In the fall of 2007, when Henry was a baby, I sat with him on the porch steps on a clear morning watching a friend from our neighborhood get on the bus for the first time. Later that long fall, when Henry was hospitalized, I told him again and again about the school bus and the friend who would sit with him on his first day of school. That story that he would go to kindergarten in a few short years was hope that we would get out of the hospital, go home, live a normal life.

The next September, I watched that same friend get on the bus for first grade without him in my arms. I waited each year, anticipating the day he should get on that bus. And the year he should have, I sobbed. Still, each fall, some piece of Henry is with me, tucked into a space of memory and dreams, there but not there.

I’ll wait for the bus with my girls soon, ready for a new year and the learning and changes it will bring. This year my son would be starting third grade. Another milestone missed. This year my daughters are going to first grade and preschool. More milestones met. The first day of school is coming, and I’m focused on what is, an the golden glow of hope and potential that waited with me eight years ago still hovers around as we wait for the bus.


Is the start of school a milestone you miss? What would be milestones have you marked recently?

3 thoughts on “The Start of School—Milestones Missed and Marked”

  1. Carol McMurrich

    Sara, I love this– and it resonates so much with me. I watch the kids in Charlotte’s grade with silent eyes, wondering what she’d be doing. It doesn’t make me ache like it would have ten years ago, but still there is this silent, lurking knowledge that she should be there. Wondering about what her interests, strengths, and weaknesses would have been… it does go on. Thank you as always for your beautiful words.

  2. As always Sara your writing is so descriptive and as a reader I am there with you. "this new first I would miss with him". So powerful. Your sharing will help others feel less alone in their grief.

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