Today, I attended the celebration of life for my college friend Mike who suddenly and tragically died last week. My first impression of his memorial is just how far-reaching his existence was. The large church was packed to the rafters with family and friends who gathered together in his memory.
The thing that struck me the most, was how his widow (awful word) bravely and confidently gave the first eulogy. They were forever partners who met in college, and who shared a deep love for each other, the family they created, and the friends in their circle. Their life together was rooted in joy, adventure, music and a zest for living their best day every day. She expressed how she couldn’t refer to him in the past tense (which makes so much sense to me) and would tell his story as he is as a person, a father, a friend, and a partner.
That’s something I have grappled with. When my mom died, I had a tough time switching my perspective of her from “is” to “was.” I hope she always refers to him as “is.” I think I would have to do that, if I were ever in her position.
Another thing that struck me was seeing my college comrades, 30 years after we graduated. It’s very strange to see yourself through the lens of seeing others who you remember from your post-adolescence. We are all now in our 50s, and (if I’m being honest) we look like we are in our 50s. We look like we remember how our parents and their friends looked. Receding hair lines, thicker middles, the natural lines and sags that accompany years of “experience.” We either have families, or careers (or both) and have been living the adulting life for a long time now.
But I’ll tell you, seeing them in this environment is unsettling. Not necessarily because someone we know has died, but because our memories of ourselves and each other is so ingrained in our minds, and the blatant shift in visuals is staggering. I have looked at myself in the mirror for over 50 years, so I have gotten used to the changes in my exterior. Now seeing the people who I saw on a daily basis (30 years ago), it took me an extra moment to realize just who I was talking to. It was like a class reunion for a terrible reason: sometimes awkward, mostly lovely, and totally feeling like it was the wrong time/wrong place to enjoy seeing each other.
I was happy to reconnect with Suzanne Trauth, one of my college professors, who has been quite busy in her own retirement being an author. She was my acting and directing teacher who mentored me in my first real directing experience. She had so much to do with my belief that I could do what I’m doing today. I don’t think she even realizes that, but hopefully she knows that now. I also enjoyed speaking to the former secretary of our theater department, the person who we would see when we needed to do theater department business. We all loved her when we were in school and she looked fantastic; I was so thrilled that she is doing well.
While it doesn’t have to be said that we should be living our lives to the fullest, I do find that the rigors of adulting has made my personal circle a little smaller. Being a working parent, I have chosen to focus my energy on my kids (both genetic and in the classroom), my home and husband, and my self-care stuff. Now that my kids are older, I feel the need to start expanding my world a bit, and to explore some things that I may have missed. Rather, perhaps to look at what opportunities I might be able to enjoy now that I hadn’t considered before as a younger parent and teacher.
Every day, we learn something new. Maybe this is middle-agedness talking, but I think Mike has reminded me to allow myself to look for things that I can enjoy and experience; maybe I can say “yes” a little more. Maybe I can make a connection happen that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. I think it’s time to explore. After all, life is short, and there is so much that life has to offer. I am looking forward to an eventful future, inspired by joy and excitement, with people who I adore.