Don’t Lose Heart: What I Want to Tell My Daughters and the Class of 2020

Class of 2020,

Don’t lose heart. As the mom of two senior girls, I get what you’re going through. Your hearts are broken. You’ve lost the last months of your senior year – the fun part of the year when you could finally relax and bask in the glow of being celebrated for your years of hard work.

For the athletes, these lost months mean you won’t get to play your last season of high school sports; for the thespians, you won’t get to star in your final performance; for the scholars, these months were for AP exams, defending your thesis, and shoring up the grades you’ve worked so hard for all these years. I get it; I’m broken alongside you.

Photo by TBKilman

I am heart-broken, too

As a senior mom, I had my own plans. Family members from across the country were scheduled to come to graduation. A few months ago, my biggest worry was where to house so many guests, how many extra tickets to purchase for the famed senior dinner, how to feed a group of twenty people for five nights in a row.

These “problems” that I fake-grumbled about were secretly my joy. I couldn’t wait to have everyone here to see my girls receive their diplomas. I’d already mapped it out, penciled dinner menus, mentally moved beds from one room to another to make the accommodations perfect. 

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, came the outbreak. Conversations started small. Wow, look at China. Where’s Wuhan? Then Italy – Milan, can you imagine? Next: State Department warnings, a travel ban, quarantines, school closures, doctors and nurses caring for highly-contagious patients without the proper protection, the daily doubling of the infected, the rising death tolls, New York City spiraling, a Naval ship on the shores of the Hudson, hospital tents erected in Central Park.

This is real; this is happening.

Unlike the doctors and first responders and even the sick, most of us aren’t in the thick of it. We’re on the periphery, and like most people, we’re working out best-case scenarios, worst-case scenarios, and myriad of “If X happens then Y.” If we can get enough people tested, then we’ll be able to designate the hot spots. If enough people quarantine for April, then we’ll be able to get back into society by May. If my girls’ school can pull off a graduation, then the senior year might have a happy ending. Conditional reasoning. This is how we pretend we have control over a situation we do not. 

As Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has told us many times: We don’t make the timeline; the virus makes the timeline. In other words, we can’t negotiate with an invisible disease. The other day I listened to Father Mike Schmitz. The head of the Young Adult Ministry at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, Father Mike is a young guy, a cool guy, a sensitive guy. He spoke about what it means to be discouraged. The word dis-couraged – at its etymology – means to be disheartened. In other words, to be discouraged is to lose heart. He said losing heart is worse than a broken heart.

Class of 2020, don’t lose heart

A broken heart we can handle; a lost heart we cannot. Sometimes we have a broken heart to avoid having a heart that is lost. 

Not losing heart means we set aside our intellectual capacities for conditional reasoning and instead believe the future will provide. It means we set down our bargaining chips. It means we believe we were built to withstand a broken heart so long as we don’t lose heart. We want this to be over, now, yet our demands mean nothing to a virus. We’re not used to having to be patient. We live in a fast-paced, results-driven society that never closes.

Asking us to sit still for a very long period of time goes against the American ethos. 

We might get what we want, and we might not. My girls might get a graduation in June, the middle of the summer, next fall, or they might not get one at all. Not losing heart means accepting whatever outcome we get with the knowledge that our happiness doesn’t hinge on a condition.

My girls were born only months after the terrorists hijacked our jets and flew them into the twin towers. I remember sitting in my OB’s office only days after 9/11. It was my six month visit, and all my doctor and husband and I could do was stare at each other in disbelief. We didn’t know what the future held, given this.

Eighteen and a half years later, we’re faced with another bout of uncertainty. We don’t know how this virus will resolve itself, but we know it will. Let’s give everything we have to the sick, the dying, and the first responders – and let’s not lose heart.     

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Jennifer Handford is the author of DAUGHTERS FOR A TIME, a novel People magazine hailed as “a wrenching, resonant debut about infertility, cancer and adoption. Grab your hankies.” She is also the author of ACTS OF CONTRITION and THE LIGHT OF HIDDEN FLOWERS which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She is the mother of three daughters, an Eleventh-grade English teacher, and an occasional essayist and blogger. Find her at

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