Ah, I remember my twenties when I was attending one friend’s wedding after another. But just barely. Because now I’m of that certain age – when you attend your friend’s children’s weddings.
This past weekend, I attended the third such event in the last three months. And it was splendid. Our friends’ son is a wonderful guy, and we’d already spent enough time with him and his future spouse to get that good feeling you get about people who match up well. They both have great friends, thoughtful, smart young people who make you optimistic about the future of the world. Of course, hanging out with his parents and their friends and family wasn’t bad, either.
The topper: No DJ. A live band! An eight-piece ensemble with a horn section and multiple vocalists who traded off leads and harmonized and there was Earth Wind and Fire and Chicago and Motown and R&B and modern pop stuff and everything.
As Beth will quickly and emphatically tell you: Nothing beats a live band. (Or a real piano, but that’s another story.)
In the midst of all this joy, though, I had a few moments of sudden and inexplicable melancholy. Not paralyzing, mind you, but real. And at those moments, I took quiet leave to take a walk outside or sit alone in a side room. And eventually, I figured it out: It was an old feeling—one that I thought I had retired, oh, decades ago—tapping me on the shoulder.
In a word, it was grief. Beth and I both dealt with it first when she lost her sight, and we realized that the life together we envisioned was not going to happen. And then when Gus was born with a genetic anomaly, and we realized, well, we weren’t going to have the child we thought we would. Of course, since then, there have been the inevitable losses of parents and loved ones that are just part of the deal.
The first time that Gus-grief tapped me on the shoulder was when he was an infant. And, for some reason—I don’t remember what triggered it—it dawned on me that I’d never play catch in the backyard with Gus like my dad did with me for hours on end. And I just lost it. Big puddle of sobbing, quivering goo.
And then I chided myself for being such a limp noodle, stiffened my upper lip, and carried on. Besides, in those days, I just couldn’t spare the time or energy to get stuck in a funk. Crisis-fueled adrenaline is a pretty good anti-depressant.
I’ve had other bouts with it—when Gus moved away, and I was no longer in constant caregiver mode, I hit a flat spot. I grieve for Beth’s eyesight and that other life we’ll never know about, too, from time to time.
Still, I’ve been to lots of young people’s weddings over the past couple years and never experienced anything like I did Saturday. It may have been because Gus has been on my mind a lot lately, I don’t know. But it doesn’t really matter. It just is.
Years ago Beth volunteered with a hospice program, where she was trained to help facilitate a bereavement group. She’d come home with these little gems of wisdom from the leader/trainer about how this grief thing works. For example, that people who lose a child can go for years without bouts of overwhelming grief and then something as simple as attending a wedding sets them off, realizing their daughter never got to be a bride, and so on.
Those little nuggets—that one in particular—have served us both well over the years. When Beth has a day when she’s just tired of not being able to see, for example, we both know that it’s real, it’s sad, and it’s natural—it’s not a weakness.
And so it was Saturday night. I didn’t panic, or feel bad for feeling grief in the midst of an overwhelmingly joyous night. I looked it in the eye and said, hey, I gotta get back to the party. My friends are out there. And this band is great.