(Mike and I with Drew's parents)
I didn’t manage to get a post up last week as I was out on a very special trip back home to Texas. One that left my heart overflowing with just how beautiful and surprising life still can be. It isn’t often that we happen to find ourselves in the middle of a truly miraculous celebration of life. I think the last time I was part of something that honored loved ones this beautifully was in Hawaii a few years ago, when I attended their annual Lantern Festival on Memorial Day.
This though, was something else. Something really personal. As I stood there looking out at the smiles and laughter, the banjos and guitars, the softly swaying hay fields and cactus warmed by the sleepy, low-hanging sun… I truly could not believe the moment’s perfection.
Once a year, every year since Drew died, all of my closest friends get together for a long weekend for what we call DrewFest. This was the 5th year, and to my complete surprise, it ended up being a much bigger celebration of him than we ever imagined would happen…
It all started with a Christmas surprise from Drew’s dad. He worked with a local brewery back in Texas and they were going to release a beer in Drew’s honor. I was already blown away… and then he mentioned a beer release party in the spring. We booked out flights right away, and let all our friends know, this year, DrewFest would include the honorary Drew’s Brew!
I’ve been waiting patiently ever since Christmas for this event. When it finally came, it was one of the single most cherished nights of celebration. We drove up to the brewery, out amidst the hayfields, quite in the middle of nowhere, and my smile widened. The brewery itself was a simple garage building. There were outdoor lights strung up over picnic tables on one side. There was an old truck trailer that soon had a bluegrass band using it as a stage. There were cactus flowers blooming in the low-lying sunlight. It was the perfect place to have this. The kind of place Drew would have felt at home.
We got there early, but before long the place was packed with people. There were moms and dads and brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and nephews, both from Drew’s family and my own. And there were friends… so many friends of all of us. Friends from my old life, meeting friends from my new life. And my closest friends… the ones who have become family since Drew died. The ones who have been there with me through the worst of it, and somehow kept me breathing. Nearly everyone was there. All told, we figured at least 100 or more people. You could breathe in the joy in from the air. Drew's dad even had shirts and caps made, so everywhere you looked you saw Drew. And of course… the Drew’s Brew beer - a dark bacon flavored beer, was delicious!
There are a few moments I will remember always from this night. Watching Mike go over to Drew's mom to tell him how honored he was to be there, and just how happy he knew Drew was about this whole shindig. Watching them share that moment, and a hug and a tear, was too beautiful for words. My two lives converging with love.
I will remember a quiet moment Drew’s mom and I had together, hugging with some tears and hardly any words…. Just a look into each other’s eyes that said everything. A look that said how much we miss him, how happy we know he is, how glad we are to still have each other, how bonded we are for life for having gone through this trauma together and somehow made it to where we can begin to feel joyful again. Everything in that one look between us.
I will remember toasting Drew with all of my closest friends, our beers in the air, and our friendship unbreakable… oddly enough, because of his death. He forged something between us in his leaving. And we are all better for it.
I will remember a moment I had to myself, walking up to the edge of the field, just as the sun had gone down and the sky was every shade of pastel… I will remember crying, not because of pain, but because of beauty. And turning around to look at everyone around me and thanking him, for somehow he is still taking me on incredible journeys.
I will remember a dance shared with Mike, out in the soft dusk light in front of the band. We were the only two people dancing, to a slow, beautiful song we’d never heard before, but seemed to fit so perfectly. How beautiful it was to be sharing this night of celebrating my first love with my new love. How deeply in that moment I appreciated the flawless nature of how Mike fit into my world from day one.
That dance made me remember a single slow dance with Drew some 6 or 7 years ago. For those few moments, my past and my present infused into each other in the most beautiful of ways. The rest of the world disappeared and it was just us during the dance. Funny enough, one of my closest friends who was there at the brewery, also happened to be the person who saw the dance between Drew and I. I will remember walking back up to him afterwards, and the look in his eye that told me he was remembering the very same memory from our old life as me.
I will always hold this night close to my heart. It isn’t often that so many converge in this way to give love, receive love, and be love. We get so caught up in our day to day lives, in the struggles and the stresses, in our insecurities and vulnerabilities. For one night though, we all were able to put all of that aside…. To laugh, to dance, to love each other, and most of all to remember the goofy pilot who meant so much to all of us that he is still bringing us back together to share our love for him year after year.
Here's to you Drew.
Thank you for continuing to bring love into all our lives.