This week I’m producing a life celebration for my husband. It’s a wedding without the groom. But I know how to do this. I’ve stage managed countless other events, even memorials before.
When you lose your spouse (every time I say that phrase I think back to Lady Bracknell’s line in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest: “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”) This, in turn, makes me think of Brian Bedford as Lady Bracknell which transports me to the pre-Els portion of Jimmie’s life.
(Readers are thinking, How can she have already digressed in the first paragraph? I invite you to peer inside the mind of the recently grieved person. There is no digression too unappealing to explore. In depth.)
When you lose your spouse, precisely at your rawest, most inconsolable moment, well-meaning family and friends ask about whether there will be a funeral. I know that funerals are the norm, but I can’t imagine how people pull them together at that moment. It was only about a month after my husband died that I was able to even imagine how to commemorate his life in a ritual we’ve come to call a “Life Celebration.”
Date. Venue. Guests. Speakers. Outfit. Music. Food. Flowers. Stage Manager. Program. Hotel. Transportation. Video.
This initial list can start the average stage manager panting with anticipation of things to order and to put in order. The list unfurls its own subset of questions that are more or less easy to answer once you’ve established the date, and the venue and have the Production Manager in your communication loop.
But this grieving stage manager had some additional hurdles to overcome. First, there is the sheer entropy of grief, that warm, swaddled state of incredulity; you are actually planning such an important event without the advice and counsel of your best friend. No one to bounce ideas off of, to run things by, to giggle with about what isn’t going to plan.
We pull on experience. Back in December, I began to pull together a guest list, determining that there would be 150 people who might want to come to celebrate Jimmie’s life. By the end of the month, I’d determined the venue, with a capacity of 74. Oops.
This first hiccough added a major need to the main list – web streaming.
So here’s the FB page where the event will be web streamed.
Date: Saturday, January 26, 2019 4PM
Venue: Web-streamed and some live participants
Speakers: There will be speakers!
Music: There will be some music!
Food: There will be some promised-to-be delish food from niece Niki.
Flowers: There will be flowers!
Stage Manager: I’ve hired a former student, Jennifer, to be professional me on the day when I can’t necessarily be counted on to be professional.
Program: There is a beautiful program thanks to my colleague and graphic designer, Chris.
Outfit: I went shopping with my friend and colleague, Tina, an accomplished costume designer. I knew what I wanted – a purple duster to wear over black pants and a gray top (which I already had). We went to Koi in Pasadena, parked in the 20 minute spot in front of the store, went in, bought the purple duster (believe it or not there was one), then retired to a nearby pub for a true English breakfast, complete with sausage and a eggs and a roasted tomato and a pot of tea. Success!
Hotel: Family and friends are starting to arrive today and tomorrow. There will be many opportunities to eat and talk about life and the wonderful man we’ve been so fortunate to spend my life with.
Transportation: Van to take family from hotel to venue. Organized.
Video: Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with my great niece-by-marriage, Alisa Bargeski, on a video to celebrate Jimmie’s life and work and family. Putting that together has probably been the most satisfactory thing about the process and very healing.
With all these elements in place, the profoundly unsettling fact remains. The groom is gone.
I sat on the couch last night and the stillness of the interior apartment settled around me, wintry wind whistling just outside the glass patio door. I wasn’t weepy, just alone and somehow finally aware of my solitude in that moment. As I said to my dear friend Susan this afternoon, after all those years of knowing that I would be alone, I never visualized exactly what that would feel or be like. Isn’t that strange? But I know I am not alone in my life, that I’m surrounded with the life force of friends and colleagues and family. And I know I’m excited to see them at the “wedding without the groom” this Saturday.