This is a tough week for us to be sure. Wes’ birthday is today and of course, Father’s Day is on Sunday. Both events fall in the same week. Every year. Imagine that. I look to this week with a lot of nostalgia, but more with anticipation for the onslaught of anxiety that is always coupled with a yearning to comfort this hole in my heart.
I can’t tell if Wes is really around me more in this particular week or not – I certainly feel him around me. But I’m not sure if I’m just ramping up on memories pining for him more as his day or days approach. Either way, I am mixed on feeling his presence and feeling sad for all the things we are missing, especially him.
We hit this first milestone only 4 months after Wes died. We were all at the beach and the whole crew of Goons and families were down for this particular weekend, which was spent having celebrations. Mostly impromptu, but other’s, were a little more loosely orchestrated. Friday night we met for drinks to toast Wes. Saturday night we had a big get together at our friend’s Jimmy and Sheila’s house, as a sort of birthday celebration, but it was more of the “Goon Cocoon” to keep the kids and I insulated to get through this first of many firsts. The Goon cocoon is not only for the kids and I, it is also in place to cocoon each other from the loss of their best friend. Losing Wes has not been easy on any of us. And as I think back on that first birthday without Wes, I realize again and again, that it was not easy for the Goons to be there for us, because they were suffering so much also. But they did, and they were, there for us – that is, and there for each other. A beautiful thing really.
So it ended up as a huge cookout for Wes’ birthday and everyone was there. Greek, a top brass Goon, gave the toast for all of us, with tears and a heavy heart, to celebrate Wes and simply to acknowledge all the collective love we had for him. We had no intention of turning the evening into a maudlin spectacle, but rather a shared love for the guy we were all missing. It was a great evening on the one hand and a heavier load to carry on my shoulders than I ever thought possible. Actually, I did know it was possible, but the truth is, the 1000 lb weight of grief that I carried around was just starting to be fully realized. You are never quantifiably prepared to carry all the grief and loss around on your shoulders, but somehow it is there and you have no choice but to drag it, carry it, lug it and certainly, house it. It’s just a fact. The weight of celebrating this birthday of Wes’ as he would have been 55, in June of 2011, was not easy. Imagine those words: he would have been…….
As our whole crew was there, feeling the load on their shoulders as well, and a collective heaviness in our hearts, we celebrated and powered through. But powered through together. Grief is a tough animal and not something you can do on your own. Certainly, we have to work out all the kinks alone, but we also need blankets just to keep us walking – so we are thankful for all our many blankets that helped us get through our first of many. As we got through Wes’ birthday, we were thrown right into our first Father’s Day, minus the father, and tried our best to gird ourselves for another emotional challenge.
We had already decided that we would cook all of Wes’ favorite things for breakfast and just celebrate the essence of him through all that he loved. As we finished eating and were cleaning the kitchen, it all started to impact me and started to come down on me like a ton of bricks. The realization that he is gone is forceful – it hits me like a mack truck and the process of my personal unraveling starts to happen. I tried to be calm and go unnoticed as I went up to my room and hid in the bathroom where I promptly lost my mind. The kids found me. In a nanosecond. Of course they did. They came in together, and just held me and cried with me. I tell ya, I gotta get a new life and get out of the bathrooms and the closets. There’s a lot that goes on in there, in my little world of Sharon. I either need to find a new venue or get a new life, but either way – something’s gotta give.
But the kids insulated me, amazingly so. But looking back, I’m not sure what I did for them. Sure, I made the pancakes. But does that count as substance? Maybe not and actually, probably not. But we stuck to each other like glue for this countdown of firsts and in the grand scheme of things, those are precious moments of unadulterated love and devotion to one another and the most selfless acts of kids trying to protect their mom from all the pain she was carrying. As I reconsider every minute detail of our journey, I am always amazed at the emotional fortitude, presence of mind, selflessness and ability to keep walking that Kara, Sean and Jake have possessed all the while carrying their fairly depleted mother. Thank you guys, I love you forever.
So, the question becomes when you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, how do you mark these holidays, going forward with birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Days celebrating our most important people? Unfortunately, I really don’t have a clear- cut answer for that. I remember many years ago, when I worked at AT&T, a coworker of mine was a Jehovah’s Witness. When we got into work the Monday after Mother’s Day, I asked if she had had a great day. She looked me square in the eye and calmly explained that they do not celebrate holidays. I said, oh, ok, but why not Mother’s Day – why not celebrate “you” for the day? She again calmly said: “well -why just celebrate on one day – why not everyday?” Ok – you got me. And you are right. Absolutely you are. Why not celebrate each other, our loved ones, every day? Again – that is the point isn’t it? Maybe we all forget that important part of our relationships. It is the essence of relationships anyway, isn’t it? They should not be taken for granted and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. So, 25 years ago, I learned an important lesson and Helen’s words have never left me. I think about her message and think about her, a lot. Thank you Helen, for the invaluable lesson.
But as I lost my mother at 19, I learned along with that loss, the larger lesson of not taking anything for granted. And I did not. I did not take Wes for granted. Well, ok – maybe, or probably, I took his easy going nature for granted more times than I should have, but I never, ever thought that life isn’t short and that it couldn’t all be taken away from you in a heartbeat. Once it’s gone, it’s just gone.
And I guess I am thankful for that lesson learned through the passing of my 53 year old Mother. Well, sort of. I had to go through a lot of pain to get to the underbelly of that life lesson. But it taught me a lot, and I was always thankful for Wes Neff, and that is just a fact. And although he is not here, I am still so thankful for the lessons of life and love that he taught me everyday.
You may not believe this, but…………I was in the closet one day….I know, I know, but it’s true. Back in my closet, crying. Probably can’t believe that either, but again, true story. Kara found me this time. And I remember her saying, as she caught me sobbing, that why should we invest in loving someone so dearly, when they are taken away from us and the hurt is almost insurmountable? In the world of Kara, I can understand the premise to her query, and certainly after the losses she had encountered and endured in a short period of time. But I held her and I told her that as hard as this is losing Dad, this pain is still worth it, and will always be worth it. The love that I had for and that I received, by loving Dad, is worth the pain. Just as the love you knew and received from Dad and for and from your friends will always be worth it. You can’t shut yourself off from feeling and self protect so you don’t get hurt. You’ll miss out on the most beautiful things in life as loving someone.
Easier said than done, to be sure, but life is all about the tough lessons. It just is. What you do with those lessons becomes the key and the opportunity to grow. Although I am still no better equipped to handle these specific days than I was on our first, I manage the void we all feel a little bit differently than before. But as I consider what we would be doing today, right now, if Wes was here, I wish, with all my heart, that I could write his name on his card or bake him a cake and just make it all about Wessy. That doesn’t go away – maybe never. But I’m not lugging my bestie 1000 lbs around like before, some of it, but not all of it, and I can look on these days with a healthier perspective. Well – sort of.
So this year as we acknowledge Wes’ birthday today, without a big cookout, but always with a toast and a cheer to the greatest guy we knew, he would have been 59 today………….
Happy Birthday Wesley. We love you – all of us.