Summer on St. Patrick's Day

I wrote this post last year, after my very first St. Patrick's Day party.  I'd submitted it to an online magazine, only to receive my first rejection letter, and then tucked it away.  I'm bringing it out today, St. Patrick's Day.  We're hosting our second annual St. Patty's party, and I hope to get another little taste of summer in March tonight.  Cheers.

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My parents were St. Patrick’s Day people.  Well, my dad was, and so by proxy my mom became one too.  About 15 years ago they started having a big party to celebrate this most Irish of holidays.  My mom cooked all the food, my dad started stocking up on Guinness weeks ahead of time and they opened their home up to all their friends and family one Saturday night in March.  It was a hit, as these things tend to be, and it immediately became a tradition.

Each year the party grew in both size and significance.  It became a touchstone for my parents friends.  As my siblings and I grew into college students and young adults our friends started attending the party.  As the years passed, more and more people became a part of the fabric of the St. Patrick’s Day party.  In the last few years my parents’ would have as many as 80 or 90 people there. 

This party was a big part of my parents’ life together, a part of the bigger story they knit with their community.  It was signature them: their home, filled with good food, good drink and good people.  I learned the art of throwing a party from these occasions.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, catered or decorated in a magazine worthy way.  As long as you have good food, good drink and good people you’re headed in the right direction.  And the key lay in the temperament of the hosts.  If you’re having fun and enjoying the party, your guests will too.  No one had more fun at the St. Patrick’s Day party than my dad.

The last “St. Patrick’s Day party” my parents’ home held was on a cold day in November.  After my father’s funeral we hauled out all the green and shamrock infused decor my mom had collected over the years and had one last St. Patrick’s Day party for my dad.  It was the biggest and longest one yet; over a hundred people crammed into my parents house and the final guests didn’t leave until a good ten hours after the party started.  It felt like a most fitting farewell for my dad.

This year, three and a half years after that November St. Patrick’s Day party, I summoned the courage to try my hand at throwing a party of our own.  We invited our friends and family and also my parents’ friends, the regulars of the original party over the years. After weeks of preparation and multiple trips to every grocery store in town the day was finally upon us.

I poured Guinness and made gimlets, visited with some of my favorite people, surrounded by my favorite sound-the laughter of those I love.  And somewhere in the midst of it all I learned a very important lesson about grief.

In the course of my journey through grieving my dad’s death I’ve framed a lot of it in terms of seasons.  The winter of grief is pretty self explanatory-that first season in your journey through grief involves darkness, despair and pain, echoing the worst of winter.  In spring you finally start to see bits of hope and light again like the spouting of buds on trees.  And I’ve come to understand how to hold the autumn of it all, the beauty in the pain.  But I’ve never quite known what to do with summer.  Nothing about my dad’s death held joy or lightness.  Summer had never come in my grief.

Until the party.

Somewhere in the middle of all our people, the green decorations that had adorned my parents’ house for so many parties, the laughter and the joy, I was able to do something I’d never been able to do before.  I could hold all that happiness, joy and goodness without it being tinged in anyway by the absence of my father.  I still felt that absence profoundly.  I still wished he was there, wished he could have seen it all.  But I still also felt real and true joy in that moment.

For the past three and a half years moments of real joy and happiness in my life have carried with them some level of weight of my father’s absence.  Holidays could still hold delight and wonder but we all knew deep down, it would all have been better if he’d been there.  Any joy was tinged with even just the slightest bit of sadness.  And I assumed that this would be our story for years to come, maybe forever.  We would settle for a level of happiness that was never quite what we knew it could be.  

And yet, at the St Patrick’s Day party, I was able to hold happiness in one hand, and the sadness in the other without the latter taking away from the former.  Of course I missed my dad on this day that was so deeply connected to him.  Of course I wished he could sit in my kitchen, drink a pint and laugh with my friends.  But I was also able to feel the fullness of the joy the evening held. 

I was also able to carry him with me in that party.  His name was on our front door, on our lips, and in our minds.  His spirit was felt in every corner of our house, and with it his cheer and delight was there too.  For the first time since his death the joy of his spirit was prominent, above the sadness of his absence.

And this for me defined the summer of grief.  This ability to fully feel the joy and the loss without their co-mingling.  And the ability to feel the spirit of our lost loved one in happiness.  

In my kitchen that night, surrounded by our people, my family and my parents’ people I said a few words about my dad.  I couldn’t have this party without connecting it deeply to him.  He was the one who taught me how to love this silly holiday in March.  The one who, along with my mother, taught me the art of throwing a good party.  And the one who showed me how to value and cherish the act of filling my home with people I love.  On a cold evening in March I honored my dad and experienced a taste of the summer of grief.