The graduation snapshots, radiant with vivid cap-and-gown colors and happy smiles, still cover the table in our front room as we count down the days to a pair of 18th birthdays and scramble through the last weeks of preparations for college.
Some nights I fret instead of sleeping, worrying about how we'll juggle the anticipated and unforeseen college expenses, whether we've met the multitude of deadlines for returning forms, what details we've forgotten or not even known about.
I hug my kids a lot.
And my eyes get leaky when I think about how things soon will to never be the same.
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That's why I can't begin to fathom what possessed Jayne Peters.
The Coppell mayor and her recently graduated daughter, Corinne, were found shot to death in their home, and details made public so far suggest that it might have been a murder-suicide by a respected woman whose life seemed well-ordered but was actually in shambles.
It would be a horrible tragedy under any circumstances, inexplicable to any mother in her right mind.
But it's especially ghastly to me, being like Peters in my 50s with a daughter (and a son) in between high school and college.
You look at online photos of 19-year-old Corinne Peters and can't imagine her on the laundry room floor, her bleeding head wrapped in towels.
Jayne Peters, news reports say, was living a lie: financially and emotionally devastated, but perhaps unwilling to tell her daughter the truth. There's evidence that the mayor might have passed off a rental car as a graduation gift to her daughter and charged groceries from Kroger and clothes from Hollister and Anthropologie to a city credit card.
It appears that Peters might also have fabricated her daughter's supposed admission to the University of Texas.
Did the mayor kill her daughter to protect her from the devastation of learning the facts? Was Peters trying to spare her only child the humiliation of discovering that her mother's life was a charade, her professional reputation ruined?
What parent hasn't tried to shield their children from adult burdens that youngsters shouldn't have to carry?
But taking a young woman's life just as her adulthood is beginning is no way to protect her from some of life's harshest realities.
Mother and daughter might indeed have been "lost, alone and afraid," as one of Jayne Peters' notes said. Peters' husband died from cancer in 2008, leaving behind a grieving family and untold financial obligations.
News reports suggest that Peters confided her problems to her pastor but maintained the same organized facade for others.
"Respectable" people, after all, are supposed to have their lives together. They're supposed to know how to cope, where to find solutions for even the most daunting challenges.
But life tests everyone. What family doesn't have secrets it keeps from relatives, friends and neighbors? Some people share their despair; some manage to manage through ordeals. And some flail about in private and sink deeper into turmoil.
Sometimes decent people do dreadful things for lack of strength to acknowledge their vulnerability.
The saddest of the three notes Jayne Peters left read in part, "My sweet, sweet Corinne had grown completely inconsolable ... Corinne kept on asking, 'why won't God just let me die?' We hadn't slept at all, and neither one of us could stop crying when we were together."
There's no way to know what Corinne Peters knew or whether she falsely led her friends to believe that she expected to attend UT, possibly Texas Christian University. Even in the unlikely event that she had put the entire college admission process in her mother's hands, Corinne could easily have detected whether she was actually admitted. Applicants have to sign forms; enrolled students are assigned e-mail addresses and receive correspondence from their schools. Her Facebook postings about missing UT orientations could have been deliberate delusions.
Jayne Peters' answer to her problems left mostly unanswerable questions.
But it should make the rest of us cherish our children and our blessings even more.
Linda P. Campbell is a Star-Telegram editorial writer.