The Lost Memories of Students in Transition: Where Do We Go from Here?

Lost Memories

by Emery Gewirtz, M.A., School Psychology, FAACT's Director of Behavioral Health

Amidst the coronavirus chaos, there is one forgotten group whose lives were taken out from under them. With little fanfare and no applause, these kids went to quarantine without their last tennis match, their productions being canceled, and no Prom to take their partner to. Graduations were put on hold; life paused. Eighth graders, high school seniors, and college seniors all parted ways without as little as a goodbye.

There will be lost memories. No proms. No senior skip days. No last game. No hug goodbye. These children and young adults are left in a world of unknowns, swamped in a sea of missed milestones.

Cindy Wassersug, a food allergy mom of a freshman and senior at Shawnee High School in New Jersey, was particularly moved by the things she and her sons would not experience. One particular tradition for seniors on the baseball team, like her eldest son, is a game where the young men give a flower to their mother as it is announced what college they will be attending. This will not be a picture she’ll have to put away with their baseball memories. Among memories lost for her son will be the senior trip to Disney world, prom, and the feeling of her son’s last day at school. Graduation, too, may land among this list of cancellations. Wassersug says, “Will he wear the cap and gown? He asks me every day... ‘Will I?’”

Wassersug went on to say, “This has been a mental battle some days for me, not my senior. I question why. Why am I struggling? I am not one to have anxiety, but there are moments this pandemic takes my breath away. However, with all this, there has been some light shining through the clouds. Even though he is missing so many “big” moments, we have all come to find “small” moments that might have been missed.” Wassersug explains that her family has been given a gift, a gift of time. Surely felt around households near and far, her family has had more dinners, more late nights talking and playing games, more hugs, and more “I love you’s” being said. In the end, Wassersug’s view is an optimistic one, “Through this awful pandemic, we are all resetting. We have time to get to know ourselves better and those around us. We have time to smell the roses and count the stars. It’s okay to miss the big moments because there will be more to come…now take the time to find the small ones.”

Others share in this odd time as well, wrestling with emotions and their struggles. Kelly Gross, who lives with Celiac disease, was in her last year pursuing her Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Jefferson University when she and her classmates were pulled from their last clinical rotations. Gross notes that both her clinicals and her graduation are postponed indefinitely, with no time to say goodbye. She says, “Emotionally, I have struggled with coming to terms with these decisions: at times feeling thankful for my educational experiences and for my health, at times feeling anxious about what the future may hold, and at times feeling sad about what could have been. This ever-evolving situation leaves many more questions than answers.” Still, Gross holds on to hope that her class will be able to come together one last time. Many feel they are not getting the closure needed.

So, where do we go from here? How do we address missed milestones? How do we see past what could have been? There is no right way as no one has ever faced this particular set of circumstances before. That being said, this means that the only way to go…is forward. We must recognize that our children, or we, ourselves, have missed big milestones, whether that be a last baseball game or a Prom. We must give ourselves space to grieve this, and the memories we could’ve shared together. We must allow space for others who may not be struggling in the same ways, even if they are in our family.

The class of 2020 will be unlike any class before them, which makes the memories they have shared, unique ones. As Wassersug stated, “let’s all move forward with hope, knowing that as life one day picks up again, there will be more big moments to come.”