And so it begins… or ends. Frankly, I’m not ready for either.
My dear friend Sue lost her Dad last week. Alvin wasn’t the first of my friends’ fathers to pass away, but it sure felt like it. Maybe it’s because, he was to first to die seemingly of “old age” – the euphemism they use with kids because it sounds less scary than massive stroke or heart failure. Alvin was in his eighties – an age when death is something to be anticipated rather than avoided. But that doesn’t make it any easier because Alvin was vital… and counted on… and loved dearly when he died. He still had things to do here.
Alvin belonged to Sue, but he truly felt like everyone’s father. Back in the late 1980’s, Sue’s Mom Rita and he were fixtures at the gymnastics meets at Penn where their daughter was the star, but they made each one of us feel special. And as we grew over the years and spread across the country, Alvin and Rita were there for the milestones we celebrated together — weddings, babies, bar mitzvahs. An event never passed where we didn’t get the warmest greeting from both of them. They knew our husbands and our children. They always spoke about how pleased they were that we “kids” stayed close. There are people in this world who you always feel better after seeing — Alvin was one of them.
When Sue married her husband Scott, they had a beautiful ceremony and reception. Their first dance was to Sting’s Fields of Gold and the newlyweds took to the floor, all eyes upon them. Mid-way through the song, the band leader invited the parents to join their children on the dance floor. Well, no disrespect to Sue and Scott but Alvin took Rita’s hand and whisked his bride into the spotlight, unknowingly stealing the show. It was something about the way they moved, gracefully and effortlessly. Together they glided, as if they were on skates, waltzing around the entire dance floor, in perfect harmony and love. It didn’t matter that the music wasn’t from their generation. They clearly could dance to anything together. It was a sight to behold and the epitome of a wonderful marriage – and I’ve kept it with me all these years.
I ache for Sue, Scott, Steve, his wife Lisa, and Rita. And I ache for this time in our lives when we are beginning to get invited to more funerals than weddings. Alvin’s death hits close to home because his relationships with Sue and her brother Steve were so strong, not unlike the ties I have to my own parents. While we have long outgrown the need for daily guidance and mentoring, having parents in this world is a lifeline to which we are all constantly clinging, whether we realize it or not. We may not need to be reeled in much anymore, but the safety and comfort that comes with being tethered to love is a blessing not easily forsaken.
The hole that was punched in Sue’s world is heartbreaking, as I know it will someday resemble my own. Sue happens to have the unenviable role of going first around this circle of life, and teaching the rest of us how it feels to grieve so deeply. I know her family will handle this immense sadness publicly with grace. I pray that privately, when it hurts the most, there is a place they can go to in their hearts that soothes and comforts them. Maybe it’s cheering in the stands of a gymnastics meet, or waltzing on that dance floor, or radiating kindness in that “field of gold” where Alvin is once again showing us all how it’s done, leaving us warmer with the memory of a life well lived.