A Last Night, A Last Jump: Friends Say Goodbye

I used to make them wear a life jacket to jump.

Grayson and Nolan were 8 and 6 respectively. They climbed the dock railing in their matching Lands End bathing suits, saying “Watch, Ma.” Water dripped from every inch of their little bodies, life jackets swallowed their torso and their knobby knees bent to the count.





There are no more life vests. (image via @donnavonbruening)

My shoulders inched up to my ears as I scanned the river and dock for danger, only breathing when I saw their heads pop to the surface. The tide swing is 10-12 feet on this deep water so that drop was a quick 10 feet or 20-foot freefall that, in a mother’s mind, could only end with an ER visit.  

As kids, my sons always begged for one more dive

The swift current carries a boy down the boat dock to the ladder…or out to sea. My husband jumped with them when they were little. I hate heights but I even jumped once or twice. Their smiles of success as they climbed back onto the dock kept me patiently watching endless jumps until the sun dropped behind the marsh grass. “One more, Mom, please.”

As teenagers, they’ve gone to the dock to jump hundreds of times without us.

The jump happens before hurricanes, under the glow of the Southern moon, at high tide, at low tide, to crawl up in the pluff mud, with gangs of buddies, every time visitors come from Ohio, North Carolina, or Maine, with their girlfriends, or just the two of them to expel the heat of the day.

I have always pushed my fear aside and let them live

A Savannah staple, the dock jump kicks off summer and marks the start of the school year. They are certified lifeguards but really, what does that even mean in these brackish waters?  I have always pushed my motherly fear aside and let them be boys. I have taken dozens of images of dock jumps, of back flips that suck the air out of my lungs, of synchronized dives, cannon balls and running starts flying over the railing.  And then I have this image, from last night. 

There are no more life jackets. 

This weekend their worlds grow wider as they spread to colleges across the South. They gathered at our home for one last “boys night.” They scarfed down Chick Fil A, made TikToks and talked about losing senior year and now losing a real college experience. They talked about forging on with hope, wearing masks and of a Thanksgiving or New Year’s reunion at our home.  

I busied myself cleaning the kitchen, prepping for the next round of eating and felt the tears well up. You and I know, this wild innocence, these friendships and first loves, this ease of high school and youthful assuredness gives way to real life…new priorities, new loves, new pressures, well, new everything.  

We have loved these days and these kids

We have loved these boys and their girlfriends laughing around our kitchen island until the wee hours. This home has vibrated with the sounds of dart board tournaments, make your own pizza nights, homemade milkshake fiascoes, Monopoly and poker all-night binges, the backdrop for many a TikTok, driveway basketball and of course, dock jumps. Our closet holds dozens of extra pillows and blankets and there is pancake batter in the freezer ready for midnight feasts.  

What will I do with the pile of “lost and found” objects in the laundry room come September?  What will we do when the nights are quiet, and teenagers are no longer sprawled on couches and blow up mattresses around the house? 

My husband and I joined the boys at to the dock to watch, just for a few minutes. My sensitive soul fought back the tears of gratitude and joy as I watched them hop onto the railing in one fluid motion. Those knobby kneed kids have grown into young men with wide shoulders.

My voice cracked when I asked them to stop for a moment and then I clicked the shutter. 





Godspeed Men, Godspeed. 

You Might Also Want to Read:

Six Reasons Why Moms Cry When They Leave Their Teens at College Helen Wingens’ beautiful piece is a must-read for anyone who has even taken a teen to college or will some day wipes away their own tears at a freshman dorm.

About Donna Von Bruening

Donna Von Bruening is a Southern photographer and writer. Her career began in The School of Journalism at The Ohio State University where she became a photojournalist. Donna has worked with many of the South’s foremost businesses and families. She calls the salty marshes of the Georgia coast home, along with her beloved husband, teenaged boys, and their cavapoo, Archie. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and www.donnavonbruening.com

Read more posts by Donna

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