Those of you who can bear to read my longwinded soliloquies may remember one of my more pathetic yet hilarious adventures in grieving. We like to call it The One Where Kevan Ended the Party Early for Everyone, and I laugh about it often still. But here’s what’s crazy, readers. Like a Japanese swamp monster from the past, IT HAPPENED AGAIN LAST NIGHT.
Almost eight years ago Paul and I met weekly with a small group of maybe a half dozen other couples, and we got pretty close with them. As close as you can get when you’re months into working your way through the shocking death of your second son, which is to say when you’re walking through a not so fun house of distorting mirrors. I was a mess. Laughing when I was trying to cry, crying when I was feeling laughter; I had no idea which end was up. Interestingly I had also just turned 60, and for the first time in my life I had a strongly adverse reaction to aging. Being one of those fun-loving creative types, my reaction was a teensy bit over the top. I reversed time in my mind. Yep, absolutely refuted the laws of nature, science, and decency. Since the group of friends I was hanging with was in their 40s, I decreed that I too was that age. And the wild part was that I firmly believed it… Grief is a bitch, yo. She rolls however she wants. Things get stuck in your head. I had never given any thought to ages or aging before, and I’d always had friends of all ages. Maybe it was me subconsciously wanting to stop time? Anyway for months I believed that I was 15, 20 years younger than I actually was, and I pretty much insisted that they go along with it too. Yeah, I’m a lotta fun at parties.
One of those friends had a daughter, at that time in high school, that I’d become close to. We talked books, ideas, life stuff, and I went to see her perform in things at school. I liked her SO much and she was instrumental in helping me to plan a surprise party for her parents at our house. However in a horrifying twist of fate, one of the other couples in that tiny group also shockingly lost their son, eleven months after Zack’s passing. We all tried to be there for them, support them as best we could, but it began to quietly mess with my head in a very dark way. On some subterranean level storm clouds were gathering on my emotional horizon, and things were getting very still inside as they began to bear down on me. If we were in a mine all the canaries would have been singing death dirges. And this damn party had to go on as the husband we were throwing it for traveled a great deal. It was their twentieth anniversary, and that was still worth celebrating. But even as guests were arriving I knew something was off, something bad was brewing within. I was gonna blow.
Okay, okay, we’ve all laughed at the story already. Long story short, my friends arrived, were surprised and thrilled, everyone beside me was laughing and having fun. Pictures were being taken, and when myself and Savannah, the daughter, were talking her poor mother innocently wandered onto the mine field, saying “Savannah, lets get a shot of you and your other grandmother.” Meaning it in the kindest way, I swear. But the snarl that came out of my mouth was truly feral. Wolves would have applauded my ferocity when I yelled “Grandmother??!!” Even the laughter that followed had a tinge of timidity to it. People know when madness has entered the room. The storm, when it finally erupted, was as wild and rude and abrupt as you might imagine. My delusions crashed mightily and I raged to my friends about their rudeness, if you can believe that. How dare they call me grandmother while in the very act of attending the surprise party I was throwing them??!! Yep, I cleared the room. Party over. And the saddest part of all was that I still didn’t know that I’d done anything wrong until days later when I told the pathetic story to another friend, who nervously said, “Yeah, but then you apologized, right?”
Two things are interesting about that story. One is that that moment when Kay asked me that question was the first small step in my recovery. In finally acknowledging my error in that sad scenario I also had to admit that I was in fact of age to be Savannah’s grandmother… and that I was truly broken. No amount of social activity was going to undo the fact that my son was gone. I was damaged and perceiving and behaving erratically because that is what happens when you wake up one morning and find your son downstairs dead. And I needed to stop everything else and deal with that in a more connected way.
The other thing I find interesting about that story is that most of the people who were at that party are no longer in my life regularly. No hard feelings or anything, and I love to see them out and about. But they were interacting with a Kevan who was held together by smoke and mirrors, who was fronting until the real Kevan could show back up. The one who could do the hard work, who could go inside and sit with the toughest reality. And they had never met that girl. Most of them had moved on before she showed back up, and who could blame them? But you know who stuck around? Yep, the girl I’d yelled at. The one who called me a grandmother. The one who told me the truth. And I’m so glad. I love her dearly.
Fast forward seven years. New friends in my life, many of them. But I see a small group regularly for coffee hangs and movie nights and yes, I’m once again the oldest person in the room, and not by months. I actually don’t even know how old some of them are, because I no longer care about age. I’m proudly 67 years old. I’ve survived 67 years of some very tough stuff and I’ve had a lot of fun, a lot of tears, and even done some significant growing through it all. Not bad at all. As many of you know, I suffered another brutal loss this year, losing my beloved man 7 years after we lost our son. It was less sudden, but strangely no less shocking. We were partners in the truest sense of the word, and to be missing your other half is a visceral pain, surreal and sometimes breathtaking… impaling. But I really didn’t want to stretch out my recovery again. I am willing to do the work, to sit with the pain and feel it, try to work with it, allow it to teach me and transform me as needed. I’m less delusional hopefully, and I’m surrounded by good people who know me well enough to call me out when needed.
Last night was my turn to host movie night and we had the usual good time. Everything was everything and the night was almost over when one of them, a guy I like a lot, who always makes me laugh, described me as “slightly older.” Just in simple conversation, I think while talking about initial impressions. Another innocent victim strolling the minefield. Why don’t they have signs posted about these dangerous areas?! And once again my shock is immediate and instinctual. Once again the words fly out of my mouth before I can stop them, although I will say the other women in the room had my back, and they were all laughingly catcalling him the moment he got the words out of his sad, sad mouth. My words were less kind, and in fact may have been a teensy bit foul, even as I laughed along with them. It wasn’t anger that I felt, and I wonder now what it was, because as soon as they all left I ate everything I could get my hands on. That is my go to move when I’m upset, but I don’t even know why I was feeling any reaction. I am slightly older, and I have no issue with my age, or at least not the same kind of denial issues I had the last time around. And that may have been what had stirred within me. The surreal aspect of it all. Once again hosting friends in my home, once again living and laughing through the veil of loss, once again being called old at the very scene of the original crime…
Anyway, I eventually fell into a sugary sleep and my dreams were wild ones. I worked at some sort of news agency, but I wasn’t a writer or reporter. I must have worked in a lunch room or something because I served food…. As I did last night…. It was a hard job too, because strangely sometimes we would be underwater, and I’d have to swim to the top of the building, gasping for air, desperately looking for the light. It was so hard, in fact, that I’d decided to quit, and had given my notice. But I hadn’t left the building yet, when a boss came up to me and suggested that rather than quitting, maybe I should do other work, take another position. It’s funny to me now to think of while awake, and of course even as I write about it, two hours after waking up, I’ve lost details. They’re dissolving into the air even as I attempt to put them to the page… But I do remember asking… and I think I was even asking myself rather than the boss…asking “Do you mean writing??” And then I woke up. And thought yes, Kevan, writing, Write your way through all this… STUFF. This messy life, these repetitive scenarios that challenge you with their attention to detail. These days where you feel like you live underwater, in a land of shimmering sorrows. Remember how much laughter heals you, and recall what sun feels like on your shoulders when you sit in the beautiful yard that Paul created. Write about hope and recovery and swimming up toward the light. Maybe you won’t quit. Maybe instead you’ll take a new position. Even as prehistoric as you are, Kevan. You never know. Maybe you’ll get the job of posting signs by minefields. Somebody needs to do it.