Last fall, I wrote a fairly sarcastic blog about my general distaste for class reunions (The Reunion: Pass or Play?) and my lack of understanding how anyone can reflect upon – much less celebrate – four years of teenage angst as the best years of their lives.
Shortly thereafter, in the midst of reading all the feedback from that post, I also received the official Evite from the organizers of the next big class reunion from my small, Catholic, all-girls high school. I cringed. Not only because this anniversary was now nearing the half-century mark, but because I knew I’d have to find a gracious (yet emphatic) way to decline the invitation.
Then I opened it… and almost instantly changed my mind. A good number of those serving on the organizing committee are also subscribers to 360Women.net and women whose company I sincerely enjoy. It was also going to be a simple luncheon occasion of graduates only – no spouses or partners allowed.
As days passed, I read more emails from classmates who were confirming their attendance, along with their sentiments in the optional Message section. Some of these remarks truly touched my heart. One graduate said she was so hoping to be with us, but would have to assess how her body was handling the recovery of open-heart surgery. Another mentioned how much she was looking forward to being with old friends, especially since she had recently lost her partner of many years.
This was the moment when I reopened my invitation and confirmed my attendance “with pleasure.” (Which, of course, prompted the kind of comical responses only those who’ve survived an all-girls Catholic high school can craft). Yet, even amidst the sarcasm, you could sense the enthusiasm and vulnerability many of these strong, independent women felt about reuniting with others who’ve shared a lifetime of experiences.
The day finally came and 36 women arrived at our reunion luncheon. Our senior class only consisted of 60 and in the years following graduation, eight of us had passed on. How this happened was not discussed. We have all lived long enough now to know that life (and death) happens, and mourned the loss as a silent part of our celebration.
Needless to say, there was not a quiet moment in the four hours we were together. Our conversations ran the gamut of all the teenage experiences and family situations that had gone unmentioned but somehow bound us together in our school days. We now felt free to openly discuss the alcoholic parents, the philandering fathers, the clinically depressed siblings and the guilt and shame that accompanied it all.
We reflected on how we were forced to keep these secrets to ourselves because, as attendees of a small private school, we all believed we were the only ones with these problems.
Gender choices that were impossible to discuss in our formative years could now be openly shared so we could give each other the support and acceptance we all long for and deserve.
We exchanged life stories of children who had died as a result of wars, accidents, ailments and substance abuse. All devastating stories that require little elaboration; the details are all etched on the faces of these mothers.
Many talked of husbands and partners who had passed away from illnesses – particularly Alzheimer’s disease – and even more of us talked about burying our aged parents. All of which led to some very funny stories about cleaning out the massive amount of stuff “The Greatest Generation” kept in closets, basements, attics and garages.
Despite the diligent efforts of a very determined organizing committee, six of our classmates had simply disappeared.
We all remembered the sad situation of one schoolmate who, two weeks before graduation, lost her father to a heart attack and left her alone with a mother who suffered from severe mental illness.
After the graduation ceremony concluded and her gown had been returned to the school office, this young girl walked quietly home only to discover that her mother had changed the locks and would not allow her back into the house. We heard this heartbreaking story through the grapevine, and that the nuns had taken her in for a short time.
This post would not be complete without a thankful nod to the Dominican nuns who were not just our teachers, but also our custodians, as well. The Dominican Order was famous for their ability to educate at the highest level and their strict disciplinarian culture, but they also considered their responsibility for each of us as a sacred vow.
I remember thinking at the time that I was being unduly corrected and punished when, in reality, these strong, brilliant teachers gave us the confidence and proverbial backbone we would need as modern women to succeed in a quickly changing workplace. And so, in some way, I owe at least a part of all that I am and all I have achieved to these remarkable women.
During our four hours together, we laughed so hard we often cried and we made a new commitment to seeing each other every year – class reunion or not.
In one afternoon, I came to realize that I am capable of change and that some of the best things never change. I also came to understand the value of staying connected to those who helped make you who you are.
Not bad for a girl who hates reunions.