A few weeks ago someone posted a graphic on Facebook that read a bit like this: "there is something to be said about driving and singing to very loud music." I have always agreed with that and found myself doing just that as I returned from Chicago where I spent four days attending the long awaited celebration of my brother's 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Given his health from age 28 (2 weeks after ordination he was in cancer surgery not expected to live) until today, he should not have made it this far.
It was pouring rain during most of the five hour drive home on Monday and I later learned there were tornado warnings around me. I was totally exhausted and overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions including joy, sadness, excitement, grief, gratitude, loneliness, and oh so many more. My dear life long friend, Cathy, sat next to me at the Mass, hugged me at the reception and became a link to Bill for me.
My brother Jim is a charismatic man who is loved and admired by many. Beloved relatives from various states were there along with lifelong and new friends. Jim had hundreds of friends there from various chapters in his life. On Saturday evening, we celebrated with a family pizza party, an uplifting Mass with hundreds of people, a moving sermon and incredible music. Following that, we hugged all these people and chatted with them at a reception and later enjoyed a dinner with 60 family and friends. It all ended at breakfast on Monday with my sister, brother-in-law, brother and my cousins (my mom's twin brother's son) who took all the pictures.
There were tears shed by many as my brother spoke and choked up several times during his homily. I shed tears often when my husband's name was mentioned by so many throughout the weekend and as I felt his absence. And then at the dinner, I broke down when I honored Jim with a brief talk. Throughout the weekend, we laughed, we cried, we hugged, we remembered dozens who have gone before us including our parents, my Bill, relatives and friends. Gatherings like this emphasize the absence of those we miss so much.
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I missed chatting with Bill, holding his hand, laying in his arms at days' end, and crying/smiling with him. No one could fill that Grand Canyon size gaping hole. How grateful I was when friends called as I drove home and after I arrived. How grateful that Bentley, our Golden Retriever, clung to me when I picked him up at the kennel. This celebration was symbolic of so much: first that Jim is still here with us; that Bill is not here physically; the end of a huge era in our lives; the beginning of another; the joy and pain that sits in all of our hearts and lives and so much more.
So why the loud singing and music as I drove? It was all about release...releasing emotions that were just overwhelming me, a jumble of emotions I had no time to really deal with all weekend. I was bursting at the seams. Each day I moved almost moment to moment from tears to joy as this person and then that one hugged me and shared. I moved from sad memories to glad memories, from agony to elation, from old friends to reminders of those who died and as I drove home my entire being just overflowed with emotion. So....I sang...a lot...loud (and cried)....Bridge Over Troubled Water, Be Not Afraid, Feelin' Groovy, Abide With Me, Impossible Dream, and several of Bill's and my love songs like The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face; In My Life and more. Finally I listened to our favorite composer Mahler whose music always provokes tears. The windshield wipers moved water from my view but nothing moved the tears from my eyes as they overflowed with feelings. At one point I pulled over to take a phone call only to notice a couple of other friends had called and yet another when I got home. So grateful for those who are there for me...who ask how life is! How I am! Who listen and hug...and for who get it.
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So the celebration has ended. Everyone has returned to their lives. The photo of our parents that Jim placed on a table near the altar and at the receptions has been hung back on his wall. My sister, her husband and brother Jim and I will now await the next celebration, a smaller but sacred and exciting one in September when our new grand nephew will be baptized in Rockport, Massachusetts.
The need for release preceded the let down that follows months, even years, of anticipation, preparation and the event itself. The silence of the first day home as I unpacked, fed Bentley, mowed grass, and just sat wrapped in exhaustion, led me to relive and remember. And as I sat, in that silence, that has become all too familiar, I felt enveloped by my solitude and my loneliness for Bill. I was back to my reality, one that still feels new, raw, painful and yet too old...one in which I often find myself looking back and remembering with grief and gratitude...and yes, tears.
I doubt I will sing loudly on the airplane as I return from Massachusetts in September. I live my life, as do we all (if we choose deep awareness), with grief in one hand and gratitude in the other; in joy and in sorrow. I will continue to choose to walk into my feelings, cherish them and hold them in my heart. It is walking into them, allowing them, that helps me make it.
And someday when joypain overwhelms me again, I will get in my car...turn up my CD player and sing loudly (and cry...and remember).