A FUNERAL, A BIRTHDAY AND A DOG
I had one of those days yesterday where I bumped up against the goal posts of life. One announcement of the sudden death of a little boy, another old friend’s funeral and then I capped it off with a friend’s 50th birthday party.
The vicissitudes of life. I like that particular word, not only because it is chock full of consonants and sibilant sounds, but it captures exactly what it means to be in this middle place in life. The dictionary defines it this way — “of constant change or alternation, as a natural process, unpredictable changes or variations that keep occurring in life.”
I didn’t know the little boy. I only know his grandparents and I know that kind of pain has no words attached to it. There are no dictionary definitions that can accurately describe the loss of a child. It’s not the natural progression of life. No parent should ever outlive his or her children.
As I watched the elderly mother of my friend Jeff, whose funeral was yesterday, I saw the pain etched there too. He was 52, had made it through the better part of his life presumably, the parts where he’d filled in most of the blanks. He had wonderful friends, a successful career, had married a great gal and been the father to three beautiful and generous daughters. But there was so much he wouldn’t get to do now. And that pain was just as fresh and as real for that mother as it was for the mother of the 11 year old. A child is a child. And a mother’s job is to protect, even though none of us can fashion armor against the randomness of cancer or a drunk driver, a blood clot or an accidental fall.
As we all remembered Jeff yesterday, some of us who had not seen one another in too many years, it was really what all good funerals are supposed to be – that clichéd celebration of life. And so it was. He touched many lives. He seized it by the neck and left his mark.
Later that night at the birthday of my friend David, we raised a glass to his life. A birthday is less about looking back than it is about looking forward. We considered several birthday party ideas. Yes, we celebrated his three beautiful sons, his wise choice in a wife, his accomplishments. We roasted and jabbed, poked at self-confessed weaknesses. But a birthday says, “I made it this far and I’m still going strong.” It was hard not to see the juxtaposition as I thought of Jeff’s family, sitting, I imagined, with the left-over’s from the funeral reception.
There is no takeaway from a day like yesterday other than the old chestnut about living life in the moment. It’s a lot harder to do it than to say it. But those of us who’ve made it this far have to give it the old college try. Loss is something we get more comfortable with over time. We respect it. And if we’re good and wise, we let it remind us to live a little lighter, worry a little less about the silly things and tell the ones we cherish how much we love them. Whenever we get the chance.
Today will be another day with both a birthday and a funeral. I’m about to head out to the disco bowling alley for my twin’s 11th birthday party. As they move into “tween-hood,” this might be our last goodie bag gathering. Next year they will be in middle school and they are already needing me in different ways than they did eight months ago.
Our little dog Tucker was hit by a car three weeks ago. It was very traumatic for everyone and it happened in front of my eyes. I had to wake my girls that morning and tell them. At 10, they haven’t really experienced much loss. They have all four grandparents and all of their aunts and uncles. They were too young to remember the scary parts of their Dad’s injury. They only see the recovery. Today we will plant a bush in the yard to remember Tucker and his absolute zest for life and unconditional love. My girls will each read things they’ve written about how much they loved him.
Today will be a lesson in celebration, like all rites and passages are. They are one year older. And they have also lost their puppy. Today will be an opportunity to remind them that they, too, can survive the vicissitudes of life.