Last Sunday, I took Maddie and Riley to a birthday party for the four-year-old daughter of some friends. It was a totally low-key affair: kids running around at a park, snacks spread out on a picnic table, candles stuck in a donut, a book exchange in lieu of presents.
We had fun. Maddie and Riley worked the snack table, conquered the slide, showed off their big-kid swing skills, and generally made merry. We overstayed our welcome by about 15 minutes, thus descending into TFE (Total Fucking Exhaustion) and making for a tantrummy exit, but otherwise, it was a lovely morning.
And yet. When I got home, I felt awful. I had a headache. I wanted to cry. I did cry. I was angry and bitter and generally glum. It was not pretty.
For about two years after John died—so until fairly recently, in fact—I avoided events like kids' birthday parties and other weekend outings with couples + kids. Playdates with a mom or dad friend and their kid or kids? Great. But events with couples out in full force, balancing the load that is childcare + socializing: no thanks. Inevitably, at those events, I would spend all my time chasing after Maddie and Riley, none of my time relaxing, and a lot of my time feeling jealous and resentful of the couples who took turns visiting and being on kid duty. It just wasn't worth it, so mostly I found reasons not to go.
At some point, the tide turned. I felt more settled in my role as a single mom, I was more at peace with John's death, and Maddie and Riley were more independent. The kids enjoyed parties more, thus I enjoyed parties more. Spending time with couples was no longer a searing reminder of what I didn't have, but a fun time to connect with friends and have more hands on deck.
I was thus blindsided by the feelings that were stirred up by last weekend's party. I'd been excited about going and we all had fun. But as has happened to me many times over the past two and a half years, grief got the best of me. I should know by now that I don't "get over" certain grief-related feelings. They ebb and flow. They fade into the background for a time. They abate, then resurface.
I think what brought the feelings of jealousy and inadequacy to the forefront for me last weekend was a set of emotions that I've struggled with since moving back to Portland. I'm in this place, with these people, doing things that John and I planned to do together. I feel a sense of calm and fulfillment leading the life I have been wanting to live and had planned on living, but man-oh-man do I wish I were doing it with John. As I build my new life here, I am surrounded more and more often by people who didn't know John at all or knew him only incidentally, and this is another twist of the knife. The pain deepens when such people are friends I know John would have so enjoyed, couples or individuals who would have understood and appreciated John's humor. The parents of last weekend's birthday girl are just those type of folks, and as much as I am enjoying getting to spend more time with them and build a social life that includes their company, it pains me that they were deprived of knowing John.
Throughout the party, the birthday girl's father was achingly kind to me, introducing me to other guests, helping me coax Riley back to happy after he tripped over a tree root, carrying around jackets and coffees and assorted other kid stuff for me. Gary is a genuinely caring person, so this was not out of the norm for him, but every time he helped me, every bit of his kindness reminded me of John's kindness and John's caring nature. The whole event made made me miss John all the more.
I'm headed to the beach this weekend with my family: my mom, my stepdad, my dad, the kids (of course). This, too, will be one of those bittersweet times, so wonderful to have my family around, so hard not to have John there. Thanks to the passage of time, I'm almost certain the joy will outweigh the sorrow. But wow, I'm surprised by how much the welcome act of being happy can make me miss him.