I ducked into the women’s room to take one more look in the mirror and one more deep breath. I can feel at home chatting up a large room of total strangers, but I felt surprisingly little enthusiasm when on the brink of joining this party which was already well underway.
John and I were both graduates of South High School. Throughout our marriage we loved attending our class reunions together, proud to be on each other’s arms and often the first two on the dance floor.
This year was different. I mustered up my courage to walk up to the registration desk. The volunteer asked my name then said, “You were married to John, weren’t you? I’m so sorry.” I hadn’t even gotten my first drink and it had begun.
The volume rose as the class of 1974 talked of recent retirements and glorious grandchildren. One moment straining to recognize faces of 40 years past, the next bursting into hugs of delightful recognition. Soon I was laughing with my junior high girlfriends telling tales of adolescent exploits. All appeared acutely attentive to the stories and memories of others. Soon the dance floor was more packed than any prom.
The hours flew by. As I drove home on the warm summer night I reflected on my trepidation at taking in this heart opening evening. I didn’t want to be there partnerless. I didn’t want to be reminded of being both divorced and widowed. I didn’t want to have to explain too much. But once I was willing to set aside my discomfort and join the party, I was richly rewarded.
When going through divorce, it is often hard to join the party. The party feels different. You are faced with the choice of joining in without a partner and having to answer questions you’d rather not, all the while lugging around your heavy heart.
What I realized by the end of the evening is that I was not alone. Of course there were others who were divorced. And even a few who were widowed. But the room was full of countless other heartbreaks being carried by people with name tags and smiling faces. Donita, who buried her brother just two weeks before. Ken, who was disabled due to a back injury. Sondra, who had lost her sixteen year old son. Never mind all of our classmates memorialized in a display of the photos of the South High Packers who had not lived to be at the party.
Everyone at the party had had their heart broken sometime in the last four decades, and no doubt more than once. Everyone has lost dreams.
My classmates reminded me to get up, dress up, and show up at the party. You’ll bring your heartbreak with you, but if you’re lucky enough to be there, it doesn’t have to stop you from dancing.