I want to tell you about my weekend.
It was a string of ordinary days, made extraordinary by people living their lives – and not just the Instagrammable parts – out loud.
On Friday night, I watched a former colleague, a poet, stand in front of a room of people and read to us his pain.
Hands shaking at times, Patrick Reardon towered above those of us gathered at a local bookstore and read from “Requiem for David,” a collection of poems about his younger brother’s suicide.
He showed us family photos. He answered our questions – about grief, about God, about his parents.
Why is he doing this? I wondered. (Maybe he wondered too.)
I’m so grateful he did.
I saw brutal honesty. I saw courage. I saw love.
In the crowd, I saw loyalty.
Reardon worked as a Tribune reporter for more than 30 years. The bookstore was filled with his old colleagues, some arriving from far-flung suburbs, others from the Blue Line. We packed the store, shoulder-to-shoulder between bookshelves, to hear our old friend’s words woven together for such a different effect than we’d known.
His wife and children were there too. His son raised his hand toward the end and asked his dad if he ever felt he’d repeated his parents’ mistakes when he raised them.
Reardon said sure. Of course. And he explained a bit.
I don’t know about your family, but the one I was raised in doesn’t have those discussions. Certainly not in front of friends, and if I’m honest, not in private either. I wish we could. I wish we would.
Maybe my old colleague was teaching me how.
On Sunday, my husband and kids and I attended a memorial service at a pub. Our dear friend’s dad, Stuart, passed away at age 88, and he wanted a celebration in place of a funeral.
So we gathered at an Irish bar on Belmont Avenue, not far from where he lived the last years of his life, after raising his family in Philadelphia and Detroit.
His daughter, our friend, read letters from her kids, both of whom are away at school. He never missed a single gymnastics meet, his granddaughter wrote. He suffered through countless school concerts, his grandson wrote. He was the best-dressed man in any room, and he argued endlessly with the talking heads on TV.
Stuart’s siblings spoke next. He was the oldest of nine, and he helped raise his younger brothers and sisters, traveling from the Upper Peninsula to Detroit, making money during the summers and sending it home to cushion their go of it.
His youngest sister, the baby, spoke last. She told us a story of setting out on a long walk home – probably from church – dressed in her favorite patent-leather shoes. It was raining, and she worried about ruining her shoes in the mud.
Stuart picked her up and carried her the whole way home. “That’s just the kind of thing he did,” she said.
I’m so glad my kids are hearing this, I thought. Look out for each other, I thought, squeezing them close, kissing their heads, in case that helped them read my mind.
Stuart was one of a kind, and his absence will be felt in every moment.
Our friend, his daughter, hosts epic dinner parties, and Stuart was always front and center. He read the newspaper religiously. After I wrote a column about the hate mail I get about my hair, he pulled me aside and said, grinning gloriously, “The next time someone writes you about your hair, you tell them to go to hell.”
He was unforgettable. He deserved to be celebrated as he lived – out loud.
His family gave him (and us) that final gift, sharing their memories and teaching us what sorrow looks like when joy is allowed to sit next to it.
It moved me. And taught me.
Too often, we only show people our shiny, happy selves. And when people show us their darker, hurting selves, too often we look away.
This weekend I was reminded of the fallacy of both.
Life is richer and truer when you let all of it in. That’s a difficult thing to do, but I’m eternally grateful for people who bravely, beautifully show how it’s done.
Contact Heidi Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter: @heidistevens13.