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Bridging a Pitfall

“Come on, it’ll be fun!” My best friend texted. Though I couldn’t hear her voice I knew she was bursting with excitement at the prospect of us attending our 40-year high school reunion together. “Let’s go!” she encouraged.

With a smile I let her excitement catch the tinder of my reservations to a reluctant smolder. “I was actually planning a trip home around that time anyway. I am sure I could make it work.”

“Woohoo,” she burst out, the eagerness with which she approached life pouncing on this opportunity with gusto. “I’m so excited!”

“Really? I wasn’t sure,” I responded with a <smirk> emoji.

She chose to ignore my jab, and blazed on like the glorious force of nature she is. “I’ll send you all the information and we’ll make plans!”

“Sounds good,” I say, the undergrowth of reservations already rising up to try to squelch the spark of anticipation I had begun to feel.

Now that I am back home after the reunion, I am so grateful to my life-long friend for taking me along on a ride that I would never have embarked upon alone. High School reunions are often catalyst events. They let loose a tidal wave of memories, they spur retrospection and introspection and for me, this reunion held pitfalls that I wasn’t sure how to approach. Since our 10-year reunion – the last we had attended – I have carried on while several beloved people have departed this realm to begin their next adventure without me.

As I contemplated the approaching reunion, I could hear the questions, the conversations that would come – “What are you doing?”, “Married?”, “Kids?”, (and unique to this 40-year experience) “Grandkids?” Honestly, the daunting prospect of the “kids?” question, 2 ½ years after my eldest son passed had me regretting my decision to attend.

Eventually it got so bad that I was dreading the reunion and my conflict over how to answer a question that should bring so much joy had me tied in knots. One day I will learn to ‘deal’ with a problem before it has a chance to cause me needless pain but I guess I’m not there yet. When my dread had gotten so bad it was affecting my mood, I had no choice – I sat down with it, looked it in the face and said, ‘ok, what am I going to do?’

Do I have kids? Hell yes! I have 2 amazing sons who have brought me endless joy and pride. My eldest son is no longer with us. He is forever 20 and his younger brother is now 20 too.

Well, as usual, something that had seemed dreadfully insurmountable while I let it stalk me, turned out to be quite simple when I turned to face it. I thought about the people I would be interacting with and considered that my response may cause them discomfort. I would never deny Errol, my eldest. He is still a very real part of my life and always will be, but how to respond in a way that is true to him, true to me and still considerate of my class-mate’s feelings? I gave it a lot of thought, going over various responses in my mind until I found a response that felt right.

It was pure joy to wrap my arms tight around my most enduring friend and feel her buzzing with excitement when she picked me up to go to the reunion. She surprised me with matching pink ‘go-cups’ with our names and “40th High School Reunion” penned in her impeccable pre-school teacher’s hand. Her beautiful and thoughtful spirit has only grown in the years since graduation. As it turns out, that was a reoccurring theme. In 40 years, the pretense and eager conformity had been shed my most of my schoolmates revealing beautiful, rich personalities. It was a real pleasure to discover the beauty we were too insecure to express all those years ago.

When the question finally came, we were sitting in a group, warm with shared memories. When someone toward the other end of the table first asked, “Do you have kids?” I let confidence grow inside me so that when the eyes turned to me, I let my pride in my boys shine on my face and said with a genuine smile, “I have 2 fabulous boys. My eldest is eternally 20 as he passed 2 ½ years ago and my youngest is now 20 too and is in university.” As I finished speaking, still smiling, wrapped in my love for both boys, there was a chorus of, “Oh, I’m sorry, but what a beautiful way to put it.”

The pitfall had come and I crossed it with the support of those around me – having built a bridge out of honesty, openness, love and a little bit of vulnerability.

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