I think I’ve always been interested in the ways that people celebrate or carry on the memory of a loved one throughout their lives. Something last time got me thinking again about this topic.
Around this time last year, my new partner Mike took me to see Tom Petty on what ended up being his final tour. It’s not as though I knew this musician personally, but his music has always been a huge part of my life. Almost a year after his death, I am still grieving as if I lost a friend. I suppose a lot of folks are.
It was after Drew’s death that I found an especially close connection to his music. For a year, I photographed portraits of myself to explore my own grief and to tell my story in a visual way. Music was almost always playing in the background… very specific music that helped me to get into the heart of my emotions. Tom Petty became a regular in the background, and the more I listened to his words as I created my own stories, the more deeply those words became woven into what I created. Songs like Learning to Fly, Angel Dream, I Won’t Back Down, and more all felt like they were telling some piece of my story. I guess that’s what he was so good at though… he was telling all of our stories.
Last week, we went to a tribute concert here in town… a whole bunch of local bands were up there on stage taking turns singing Petty’s songs. And at the end, they all came up together - some two dozen people - and sang a few final songs. What an incredible energy it was.
It’s times like that when I think, “This is the way you do it. This is how you keep living on when someone dies. These people get it”. You celebrate them, and you keep on celebrating them. Granted Tom Petty isn’t just any random person, and it becomes easy to celebrate someone who made great, iconic music… but it’s more about the mindset of this idea that I think is a great takeaway for everyday life after loss. Why can’t we all celebrate our dead people and the gifts they left with us so openly? Why can’t we all have a concert or a celebration once a year or whenever the hell we feel like it just to celebrate them? What stops us? Or maybe the better question is, how can we infuse this kind of celebration into our daily lives and continue to keep our loved ones a part of the story for many years to come?
Last Thursday, all of my closest friends flew in from around the country for our annual trip to see each other. Since 2012, when Drew died, we have been making it a point to come from far and wide to spend a weekend together celebrating his life and our friendships. We call it Drewfest, and this year was our sixth year. It was the first year having this celebration in Ohio, which was a big deal for both Mike and I.
I can hardly find the words to express how much this group of people means to me. I honestly believe they have made one of the biggest differences in how well I have coped with and healed these past 6 years. They are one of my strongest connections to Drew, because they were there for so much of the happy memories and good times - sharing alongside he and I. I know without a doubt they miss him the same way I do. And I know they remember all the good times as much as me. When we are together, we all feel closer to him.
They also remember the hard times, because they were there for that too. In the weeks and months after Drew died, these were the friends that showed up for me in countless ways and helped to carry me through. They were my rock. They may never really know just how much of a difference their presence has made.
Six years later, they’ve never left. Even though our lives continue on. As I found new love, they welcomed it. As some of us left Texas for Ohio, California, and Florida, we started video calling each other to stay close. So much living has happened since that difficult day in June of 2012. Good and hard times both. And still these friendships have remained. Even though sometimes we may not catch up for months at a time, I know they are there. I know because we have been through an unthinkable fire together and that fire has strengthened our friendship. It is the one greatest gift that Drew continues to give us…Read more
This past week, I had a pretty crazy dream. It’s the first time of this sort that I have ever had. As many of you know, our Tuesday writer, Mike, is my boyfriend. He lost his wife, Megan, in 2014 to Cystic Fibrosis and I lost my fiance, Drew, in 2012 in a crash. We’ve been dating now a few years, and still nothing like this dream has showed up before.
And then came Mother’s Day last week… and the post I wrote about Mike and Megan’s daughter, whom I am now caring for as my own. You can read that post here, but essentially it boiled down to my deep appreciation for this little person being in my life now and all that she has changed for the better.
So that night, the end of Mother's Day, I had a dream... about Megan...
It was not just any dream. It was one of *those* dreams… and you all know the ones I mean. The dreams that some of us call “visits” because of how realistic they feel. In this dream, Megan was in a hospital bed and Mike and I were on either side of her. He was not a major part of the dream, except to introduce me to Megan at the beginning. He told her that I was the new person in his life. That I was the one chosen to be here, after her. And then, there was this completely real, completely tangible moment of us looking eye to eye at one another. Silence. Hearts beating, a little tensely. Guardedness. Neither yet saying words… she was taking me in. She was taking in this moment of her life that she knew would always come.
And just as if it had been real, you could feel the presence of protectiveness in her. The seriousness of the situation in her. And she then looked forward a moment, took a breath, and began to tell me in a very matter of fact way what was important to her for me to take care of after she’s gone...Read more
It's his birthday this week. March 22nd. On this day, I will always "celebrate" Mike. There will never be a March 22nd that I don't spend with him. On his birthday I purposefully choose to remember the way he lived. I celebrate the life and love we shared together. This is how I try to honor him everyday - not just on his birthday. That being the case, I admit that I want to do something more on his special day, but I haven't completely decided what this might be.
In the grief world people do all different types of things to mark birthdays. The way we choose to celebrate our person are varied. The only thing constant is that the celebrations are fitting for those who died. I like that. Not one type of birthday celebration will do because the people we are honoring are separate, unique individuals. To honor their person, some people release balloons and the environmentalist scold them, others set off lanterns that are biodegradable - they don't receive any backlash. Some choose to cook their person's favorite meal. Some people gather friends and family together. Some go to the cemetery. Some have cake. Some people spend the day alone - in bed. There really is no correct way to mark a birthday for someone who died, or for someone who is living for that matter.
For me, on significant days, I find that I am less out of sorts if I have a plan of some kind. When special days occur on the calendar I prefer to plan something. If I don't organize something, then grief leads me places I don't want to go. Creating a shape for the day is what works best for me. You might be different. Grief has many commonalities, but each of our experiences is unique. So, I think that we should do whatever is best for us. We should do whatever soothes our Soul.
Because I love to write, it's not surprising that I will write Mike a birthday letter. I will go to the grave and tie a balloon to the shepherd's hook I have lovingly placed behind his headstone. To Mike, there will be a handwritten message on his birthday balloon. I will stand there, on his grave, wishing with all my heart that things were different. I will play him some of our favorite songs, and I will toast him with his favorite wine. And, then I will cry. Before I leave, I will read Mike his birthday letter. And, then, I will cry some more. My graveside visit is very precise and predictable because I have completed this ritual for all our significant dates. I know how it feels. I know what to expect. And, I find it comforting in some strange way. For me, it feels right to honor Mike in this way. My rituals are sacred and intimate for us.
However, I am an overachiever and I outgrow routine quickly; so, this year, I want to do more to mark his birthday. I feel it is necessary. Mike's life was bigger than my ritual of reading him a birthday letter and toasting him with a glass of Malbec. His love for me was deeper than just me, his widow, standing at his graveside offering a balloon to the man she loves. (For those of you who did these exact things please know that your gestures were perfect as they are. Nothing more is needed to honor your loved one's birthday. It's just me. This year, I know that I need to change things up.)
I honor Mike every day - in both big and small ways. Daily, I credit him with the profound impact he has on my life. I think we all do this as widows and widowers. I believe that we naturally "celebrate" our person, in their absence, every day of the year. Yet, for me, my Soul is calling me to do something more on for Mike on his birthday this year, I just haven't figured out what...
(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…Read more
It’s been over a year since I really started getting to know the person you were. Yesterday was your birthday, and as Sarah and I had a beer, we toasted to you. We sat quietly on the couch, tapped our bottles, and watched television for the rest of the evening. I wanted to write you a note about things.
There weren’t any big “ceremonies” or special traditions, other than Sarah remembering, and I wishing I could. I thought about Megan a ton. We had leftovers from Easter dinner, and chatted about the random things we always do.
It’s as if you were there, just hanging out.