“Love always triumphs over what we call death. That's why there's no need to grieve for our loved ones, because they continue to be loved and remain by our side.” -- Paulo Coehlo
We celebrated Mr. Jones this past Saturday. Friends, family, and colleagues joined us at the beach to hug, cry, and catch up. Some people had never met each other, but we all had Larry in common. There were the guys he grew up with... a few people he knew from his time as a manager for Pier 1... the guy that first taught him to fly... distant cousins... and, of course, his beautiful children. There were even some friends of mine that showed up to make sure I was okay.
Was I okay? Not really.
But on Saturday, I was in Event Coordinator mode, focused on the tables, the food, the location of the sun in the sky... all of that mostly helped keep the ugly cries at bay. But it was hard to hear all the stories and see Larry's friends holding back tears. Every now and then, I had to turn my head and just let it go.
After sharing a meal and just before sunset, I gave everyone a large white orchid and we walked down to the water. I asked a few of his friends to share their favorite memories with everyone. The Larry they talked about was the Larry I loved. I didn't always get to see that guy toward the end of our life together. I recognized so many of those stories. Larry loved to regale me with his youthful adventures and indiscretions.
And I'm so glad the kids got to hear about the good guy their dad could be. They have some happy memories, but the past few years have been difficult for them... for all of us. It's hard to remember the fun times when you're stuck in the reality of a nasty disease. Hearing Larry's friends talk about their buddy and the things he did for them truly warmed my heart. The kids needed those stories. We all needed those stories.
When everyone had a chance to share, we took our orchids out into the water and released them into the waves. It was a symbolic letting go, something I think we all needed. I walked a bit further into the water away from the others, holding the orchid close to my heart. After a moment, I lifted it to my lips for one final kiss... and then I let it float away.
I felt Larry's presence the whole evening, hanging around the periphery of the gathering. There was a sense of contentment in the air. I could picture his smile... the smile he had when he woke up after a long nap... like he was just happy and comforted. I know he loved the way it turned out and that he was pleased to see all of his friends gathered together for him.
I also felt a sense of completion... like I had fulfilled my duties to him and he was finally letting me go.
We had some good times, but oh boy, did we have some rough times. The last two years, especially, were some of the hardest years I've ever lived through. Most of the difficulties we suffered through were his doing. I don't think anyone would have blamed me if I would have just said goodbye at the hospital and walked away.
But I was his wife for the past seventeen years. "We were like peas and carrots," we'd always say. We were, on our best days, each other's greatest loves, and that meant something to me. I owed it to the sweet man... the one before the dark times... I owed it to him and his cherished friends to hold a space for them to all come together and say goodbye.
Once it was over, I felt a huge weight lifted from me. I didn't have the desire to linger or to sit with any sadness as the final guests walked away. I didn't feel like I had anything more I needed to say or do. All I felt was relief, and all I wanted to do was go home and sleep for at least three days.
Before leaving the beach, it occurred to me... somehow, in our typical, complicated, dysfunctional way... Mr. Jones and I managed to stay married "til death us do part," just like we promised back on the shores of Lake Tahoe seventeen years ago. We stood on the beach, just before sunset, barefoot in the sand when we made that promise.
And there I was, standing on the beach, just after sunset, barefoot in the sand, saying goodbye.