On the weekend I faced yet one more milestone. Milestones come in many forms, spurred by direct and indirect associations. We think of the first birthday, anniversary, Christmas and so on, but there are other firsts that we have to face. The first time you enter the house and really, finally, realize that you are on your own. The first time you find yourself in a situation that you can’t control, but you have to, because you are on your own. Learning to do things that weren’t “your role” in the relationship, and the frustration of being clouded by grief while you try to do your learning. All those firsts have to be faced. Sometimes it feels like the first time over and over again; walking into the house at the end of the day is my perpetual first.
The milestone I faced on the weekend was a birthday party. A lovely, wonderful party for one of my husband’s longtime friends. It was an afternoon affair, and I knew I was certain to know at least half of the crowd. I knew that invariably someone would want to talk about Kevin, my late husband. It’s been over six months now so I’ve developed a coping mechanism that usually can carry me through, and I felt reasonably confident that I could manage it without losing my composure.
Once there I recognized that most of the people in the room had experienced an intense and close loss; I was not the only one. The loss of a child, parent, spouse – unfortunately, death was too well represented in the room. I had read somewhere recently that at any one point in time at least 7 to 9 per cent of the people in the world were experiencing extreme grief associated with the death of a close family member. Certainly we exceeded that number in the group that met on Saturday.
It was a lovely day, and perhaps because almost every one attending had been levelled by death quite recently, it felt as if there was a more heightened awareness and appreciation of living, of life. Life is what Kevin fought so hard to sustain. Life is what Kevin brought to a room. I missed him sorely at the birthday party and I suspect that I was not the only one. Kevin was outrageous and he would have been in prime form for this particular birthday.
The only time I faltered during the party was at gift opening time. We were almost to the end when a little boy of about three pulled up a chair beside the man of the hour and said, “Pops, you got gifts?” It was so sweet that it broke my heart; I think everyone in the room caught their breath, and we all watched as they opened the rest of the gifts together, grandfather and grandson, laughing, joking, loving. A day to celebrate and appreciate.
It was emotional, I won’t lie. While I was at the party, I was happy. When I went home it was to an empty house, my perpetual first. Sleep didn’t come easily that night, there were so many memories that flooded my mind, all good, but poignant. But, thank God for memories, at the end of the day, thank God for memories.