I was at an engagement party, still wearing the dress I had bought with my grandfather’s funeral in mind. The lace had started to detach in certain places. I told myself I would bring it back the next day.
Earlier that day, we had laid my father’s father to rest. This was a profound loss for my entire family. He had lived into his eighties, but in many ways this just intensified the impact he was able to have on his children and grandchildren, and as it turned out – total strangers. People spoke about how when he spoke to them, he made them feel like the most important person on the planet. To him, all women were “darling”. To him, all men were a “pal”. To us, he was someone we were lucky to know and love for so long.
This was the fall of 2014. With two miscarriages behind me, I had not yet summoned the strength to decide if I was strong enough to try again. While losing my grandfather fell well within the “natural order” of things, it was another loss and I was tired of loss. I desperately wanted to return to what life felt like before I knew how quickly things could be snatched away. My intention for the day had been to honor a man who had an immeasurable impact on my life. On some level, I hoped that formally saying goodbye would allow me to wake up the next day feeling slightly more ready to move on to greener pastures across the board.
Knowing what I know now, it’s impossible not to think back to what that day had to be like for my father. He had delivered a powerful eulogy about how his father had been his personal superman, able to save the day with skills ranging from a perfectly timed chuckle to an impeccable ability to construct and repair any tangible thing. As sad as I was, I was sadder still for him. My grandfather’s passing meant he was the oldest remaining member of his family. As an adult, watching your parent lose a parent gives you a glimpse into the reality that up until that moment, to someone they had still been a child. To me, my dad had always been a superman, the one with all the answers. I had never thought that some of his confidence may have come from him having his own superhero still on call.
It’s still hard for me to think about what happened next, which is why I’m determined to try and find the words. After the services, we went to my brother’s apartment to watch the footage he had recently gotten from his wedding videographer. The montage would no doubt include my grandfather, but it would depict a largely joyous day for all.
As the credits rolled, my father stood up and began speaking. What started as a proud testimony of our family’s strength segued into something wholly unexpected. When he finished speaking, it was out there, in the open for all of us to contend with for the first time. He hadn’t wanted to mention it until we had been able to properly honor our Gramps, but the Jones family had another obstacle to contend with now. He had cancer. Multiple myeloma, to be exact. He cautioned us not to google it, saying that the disease and all its stats were skewed by the fact that the typical patient was 10-20 years older than him. He was young. He was strong. His doctors were hopeful. Life would go on, and we would fight this.
So here I was, at an engagement party, utilizing the flexibility of a black dress. Here was a smile on my face, because engagements are hopeful, joyous occasions. Here I was, realizing once again that as long as you go through the motions of toasting and cheering, its entirely possible that no one will notice that on the inside you are crumbling.
There would be time to share the news, to rally the troops, but now was not that time. The reality of life is that your lowest lows will inevitably overlap with others highest highs. Being a grown up means that you navigate this with grace, knowing when to bury deep your despair and simply show up imperfectly and be there.
(To be continued in Part 2…)