I attended our company holiday party the other night. It got rescheduled due to the winter storm we had in December, and took place at a quirky german place called the Essen Haus. There would be pretzels, polka and beer.
I had avoided some previous company events, but felt like I could brave this one. I need to re-integrate. Many of my co-workers are also friends, a wonderfully wild bunch…and, there would be dinner…a huge motivator…as I am still not eating well.
I knew the gathering would not be without stress for me. I was absent for several months during my husband’s illness, and still feel like a ghost when I am at work. But the world didn’t stop, new people were hired…so there would be lots of small talk, introductions, light-hearted chit-chat. It wasn’t going to be easy, especially with my memory still being so messed up from grief. Most of all, I knew that I’d feel his absence. Last year, my trusty sidekick, the funny charming one, was there with me, in the flesh.
Man. It is tiring walking the path of a ghost. Casper the Friendly fucking Ghost. Come on, didn’t we all feel incredibly sorry for that poor specter, trying to fit onto the real world? That’s me. Physically present, but hollow inside. Distracted. Disengaged, but not disarmed. There is the constant pretending, the faking and fending off of innocent comments that are like bullets to the heart. Talk of fiancés, babies, families that are complete, plans that are being made, a cozy, comforting future in the spouse who had to stay home with the sick child, the same spouse who will be there, waiting for you when you get home, after the party.
Argh!!! We were barely into the cocktail hour, and I was suddenly overcome with exhaustion. Tears hovering near the surface. I was going to have to remove myself from this party immediately. There was no way I was going to wait for the bell to toll at midnight and have everyone watch me turn into a sobbing mushy pumpkin. Forget the borscht, I could eat cereal at home.
But then the wait staff, outfitted in lederhosen and dirndls, saved my sorry ass. Dinner is ready, take a seat anywhere, casual, family style. Ok. I can do this. Sit with people I know, have a beer, eat dinner. Afterwards, I can go home and melt, take the sheet off, and be by my ghastly, ghostly self.
And somehow, I made it through. Linking one foot in front of the other, dipping celery into Ranch, passing the potatoes, moving from one conversation to the next, engaging in reality. All the while trying really hard to pretend that the empty seat next to me at dinner (I have no idea why the new girl left an empty chair between us at the table) didn’t seem to have another ghost, my sassy departed sidekick, sitting in it. Was I the only one who noticed?
I remember when the first counselor from hospice sat down with us. She asked about our fears. I said…(and it still hurts to say it now), that I feared coming to that point in the process, when our paths would diverge, when we could no longer continue as a team. ’til death do us part, right? Who knew that moment would really come? My sweet husband would have to face death, on his own. And me? I would have to face living, and grieving, alone. Death might be the final blow, a seemingly clean cut, but parting, and continuing to live, much more complicated.
And partying?…a whole other story. I was definitely not the only ghost in the bar.
When I finally got home, and the tears were flowing, he said to me, “It’s ok. You did it.” Then I envisioned him imitating my boss by breaking into a mean polka, throwing in a little bit of his signature Michael Jackson moonwalk for good measure.
I’m pretty sure that’s what he would have done, my sweet funny ghost of a date.