The holidays will never be what they once were for those of us suffering from the recent loss of a loved one. The time of year that used to bring anticipation of presents and Santa and the Baby Jesus and sweets in our stockings and “Auld Lang Syne,” becomes an unwelcome ghost in the face of grief. Each mourner finds a way to get through the holidays with the help of family and friends, or maybe with a creative plan to shake things up a bit and do something different. Some escape on a cruise ship or take a plane, train or automobile somewhere warm or scenic.
I threw a party for Christmas and invited my neighbors and new Florida friends. It was just what I needed. My piano teacher played Christmas Carols and everyone dutifully sang. I beamed with joy, so grateful that my plan to escape the emptiness was working.
And yes, that story is a miracle itself, but it was on New Year’s Eve that I was visited by an angel. Before you call the paramedics to rush me into therapy, read on.
I figured a distraction plan worked for Christmas, so I thought: “Better figure out some strategy for New Year’s Eve as well.” The holiday was not one that my late husband Gene and I celebrated too frequently, although we had a great time one year at Camelback Ski Area when they hosted a party in their lodge. But mostly we would just toast the New Year at about 9 pm and drift off to sleep before the ball dropped. But I was determined to do something festive.
I thought I’d begin with sunset on the beach at Sharkey’s pier in Venice. Sharkey’s advertised a New Year’s Eve beach bash, but doing that solo was risky. As I watched the sun sneak below the earth, taking pictures with my phone and sending them to friends and relatives, wishing everyone a Happy New Year from the beach, I weighed the pros and cons of bar hopping to maybe “Sharkey’s,” “The Crows’s Nest,” and “Pops Sunset Grill.” I realized “…oops, I have no driver.” Drinking and driving was also too risky.
Coming off the beach and swishing the sand off my feet, I climbed into the Subaru and headed to “The Crow’s Nest”, still sober. I couldn’t find a parking space, so I drove on to the south Jetty, where I parked, sat and stared at the stars in the sky and I began to get all nostalgic. A deep sadness crept like a thief into my heart, taking a wrecking ball to my big plan. The tears welled up and I thought my night was over, then the phone rang. It was my friend, Margie. God bless Margie. We talked and laughed and my mood improved as I struggled to hear because there were loud noises behind me. Margie and I ended our call offering each other best wishes for the New Year and I turned the car around. Fireworks!! There were beautiful fireworks shooting up directly behind the North Jetty Fish Camp. This was Gene’s favorite place in Florida! Our old fishing pier.
Things were looking up. Next I knew I had to go to Pops. This was our favorite restaurant and bar in Florida!! Situated on the Intercoastal Waterway, Pops is the best place to relax and watch boats motor by, drink something tropical, wine, or a beer, and listen to some fantastic local band. I never thought I’d get a parking space on New Year’s Eve, but there it was, second space, right in front of the door. What are the odds?
I felt a little out of place, but asked the waitress if I could sit at the bar and she welcomed me and ushered me inside. I ordered a glass of wine. A bench in the common area looked more roomy than a bar stool and several people were already seated there. I slid into a vacant spot and began to listen to the music as the flames flickered from the fire pits burning at each table and the holiday lights blinked red and green, illuminating the palm trees and making them seem magical. The band was R.P.M. with Dan and Mary. They played a mix of 1960’s folk rock and rock tunes including Janis Joplin’s “Bobby McGee.” This was followed by a Beatles set and I had the thought that maybe I’d request our wedding song, The Beatles, “In My Life.” Then I thought about that again. “No way, I’ll fall apart if I hear that song tonight. Can’t do that.” The Band played McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road.” Oh my God. So beautiful, so apropos, so heart-wrenchingly sad. I wondered “Why God?” I was soon to have an answer.
As I finished the thought and recovered from McCartney’s lyrics, guess what the band played next? Yes. They played “In My Life.” I couldn’t bear it.. As I broke down in tears, I remembered so clearly the glory of our fall wedding day and the quirkiness of the backyard ceremony. I recalled the local folksinger who crooned this Beatles song despite her laryngitis and played guitar so sweetly. I smiled and began to feel warm as if the sun was shining down on me. It occurred to me to be embarrassed, wondering if the servers or patrons were staring at me and if I was spoiling the party for them. But to my surprise, no one reacted to me. It was as if I were in a bubble in time, separated from everyone, allowed to grieve without interruption and without disturbing or penetrating the world of anyone around me. That is….. except for one person.
Earlier in the evening, when I first found my seat on the bench, I did a bit of “people-watching.” I noticed an American family, a father, mother, daughter and one who appeared to be a boyfriend, laughing and singing and dancing. Next to them stood a young man who didn’t seem to fit. He was Middle Eastern, dark hair and eyes, very young, maybe late teens or early 20’s, and to me he looked very ill at ease. His movements seemed to be practiced, and I thought he might be pretending he was having a good time, but maybe not feeling quite as “cool” as he would have liked.
The family sat on the bench, and this young man sat next to me.
As I sobbed, I looked up at him to see if I was disturbing his revery, and he spoke to me: Quite clearly and with a wide smile, he said: “God Bless You.”
Just then the music reached a crescendo, “…In my life, I love you more…” followed by the touching instrumental interlude. That line always makes me sob, whenever I hear it. The young man next to me must wonder, and I felt I owed him an explanation. I wiped my eyes and turned. Gently, I laid my hand on his and I apologized. I explained that I lost my love this year, and that this was our wedding song, and I was overcome with grief. I was sorry but I lost control.
He smiled again, an amazing smile that lit up his entire face. And he said simply and again, “God Bless You.”
I stared in disbelief but accepted the blessing in my heart.
The family rose to leave and he followed.
Whoever you were, young man, for this New Year’s Eve, you were an angel who comforted me. Thank you.