You could say that I have some experience dealing with grief. I have gone through the usual losses – grandparents, my parents (although I was only 32 when my mom died and it was devastating) and also some unusual losses. Both of my brothers have died, Douglas 19 years ago and Donald 33 years ago this week.
Losing family members is terrible and sad but losing friends creates a whole different level of tragedy. My friend Debbie was killed 9 years ago this summer. And, 6 months ago we lost Bob to cancer. The impact of that loss, the hole that it has left in our lives, is incredibly painful. My happy and cheerful husband is somber and sad in a way I’ve never seen before. My kids cry and shake their heads because they can’t believe this man, who they knew for their whole lives, isn’t around to make them laugh. My extended family, the guys in the band, our friends and our community all feel this loss with us. They comfort us and make us feel loved but the truth is that Bob’s death has rocked us to the core.
Why am I feeling the need to write about this today? Partly because on Sunday the band played for Dale’s sister Lisa’s 60th birthday party. They played in a local hall, a place they have played countless times. A place where we have had weddings and showers and dances. A place that is easy and familiar and comfortable. A place where Bob should have been but he wasn’t. And there was someone new playing the drums in his place. Seeing that new guy (who is very nice, by the way) up there with all these men I love was surreal. And kind of sickening. I didn’t anticipate the impact of that and I truthfully don’t know how Dale held it together but the show must go on and it did. It was fun and they sounded good. Different. But good which was also tragic and sad because shouldn’t they sound bad without Bob? Shouldn’t they be unable to continue? Shouldn’t we all be unable to continue? It doesn’t work that way, though. I know that and you know that and even Bob’s wife Tina knows that. Her pain, which is stronger and far more encompassing than mine, is so great that I don’t know how she manages.
The other reason I’m writing about this today is because Tuesday night there was a concert at the high school where Bob taught. And it was dedicated to his memory. The three bands from the high school performed as well as Dale’s band and Bob’s brass quintet group. Each piece that was played was chosen because it reflected something about Bob. His fondness for medleys, his passion for classical music, his experience with the circus band, his deep and abiding faith, his talent for playing the French horn and the trumpet, and his love of singing and playing the drums with his rock ‘n roll band. Needless to say, it was a very emotional evening, particularly when they used a recording of Bob’s voice introducing the Ashoken Farewell from his retirement concert back in 2010 to introduce that very same song Tuesday night. There were tears shed but there were smiles, too, as we heard stories about Bob from his colleagues at the school and as we listened to music we knew he would love. The Ashoken Farewell was particularly moving and The Lion Sleeps tonight was peppy and joyful and I couldn’t help but thinking how much Bob would have enjoyed that. For me, though, the best moment was during a medley from The Lion King. As the Advanced Concert Band played a melodious version of Can You Feel The Love Tonight I truly could feel it. I could feel the love for Bob from all of us and I could feel his love for us, too. It was bittersweet and sad but comforting in the way that only beautiful music and wonderful memories can be.
If I’m being perfectly honest I will tell you that I had zero desire to go to this concert and the only reason I did go was because Hannah insisted. I thought it would be sad and difficult and emotionally exhausting. And I was right – it was all of those things. But it was also much more. It was joyful and comforting. There was solace in the music that was played in Bob’s memory and in sharing stories about Bob as we dined with Tina and her sister after the concert. And there were those moments where I knew for sure that Bob’s spirit was with us – I felt him there as surely as I felt Dale on one side of me and Hannah on the other. It was one of those moments of grace that you long for but you can’t make happen, you just have to wait for it and know that you will feel it when it does.
In other words – I’m glad I went. I’m glad because Tuesday’s concert brought joy and consolation to replace the loss and despair of Sunday’s show. I’m glad because I realized that Bob has not and will not be forgotten. Finally, I’m glad because I’m reminded, once again, that while grief is horrible, it’s the price we pay for loving deeply.
And choosing to love someone is always always always worth the price.