A well of grief, a new beginning

We were waiting for a table at the diner when they began.

Without warning or a word to prompt them, the tears that I’d found strangely absent the day before started with a slow trickle that rapidly became a stream.

My boyfriend, Zane, immediately concerned and — bless him — somehow always intuitively prepared for such seemingly sudden displays, huddled closer, asking if I wanted to step outside. I shook my head, even as I felt the curious eyes on me and imagined the associated tales being hatched.

The day before, I had, from the vantage point of maid of honor, watched one of my dearest friends get married. A self-proclaimed sap, I had expected quite a bit more blubbering on my part than actually occurred. But aside from the brief waterworks at a luncheon with the bridal party when I read the card she’d inserted into my gift bag, and the faint prick of tears when I saw the groom’s eyes well up as she made her grand entrance down the aisle, I remained surprisingly dry-eyed.

So as my boyfriend tried to get to the bottom of my distress over pancakes and eggs, I assured him that my case of the weepies was merely the residue of what had not been shed during the previous day’s festivities.

It was not until later that afternoon, after getting a voicemail from one of the bridesmaids who shared that she’d found herself sorrowfully confronting a void from the moment she’d woken up — and wondering if I were experiencing the same thing — that I realized what was happening.

I was mourning the end of a friendship as I’d known it.

I did not expect my friend to be one of those brides who waltzes off into marital bliss only to neglect the life that had previously been hers and the people who had filled it. She simply is not one of those women. Yet, even as I intellectually understood this, I grappled with a sense of loss. She was now a married woman, having transitioned to a realm outside of singledom that I could never fully appreciate. There would be a different shape and structure to her life now, a different rhythm, and always the consideration of another half that would impinge upon those spontaneous and carefree impulses given to the more loosely tethered.

As I commiserated with the bridesmaid also wallowing in such musings later that afternoon, it occurred to me that life delivers us many such moments of unexpected loss.

There are the big ones that we can perhaps prepare for — the passing of a loved one, the loss of a job, the end of a romantic relationship … though in the midst of them, any amount of planning or anticipation often becomes futile.

And then there are the instances that sneak up on us, the unheralded passages and transitions, ushering us into new spaces without fanfare or ritual or so much as a flash of foresight to soften those initial bewildering blows of grief.

I think the element of surprise comes largely because such moments aren’t talked about enough.

I had never been a maid of honor before, but I had been a bridesmaid and I knew all about the joy and excitement and, in some cases, stress that can accompany such a title. But no one told me that witnessing and supporting my friend’s 10-month journey to the altar would leave me with a tender hollow once the dresses had been decided upon, the shower and bachelorette party planned and myriad details obsessed over all in the frenzied buildup to the big day.

This past Mother’s Day, when I wished a “Happy Mother’s Day” to a friend of mine whose two children had both left the house in recent years, she shared how much she missed being an active mom — a grieving process she felt was not given the attention it deserved.

On the flip side, another friend had her first child this year. In a starkly honest moment that I sincerely appreciated, she told me that motherhood was a strange mix of emotions and that the deep love so many moms profess to feel the instant they first hold their little one hadn’t quite cemented itself in those first few weeks of caring for little Gia.

In fact, in her first few days home, she’d actually had to mourn the loss of her single self, or at least the single self that until that point had been part of a married couple.

Which all brings me to the title of this column and, in part, its impetus.

In March, I settled on my very own condo, and moved not only into the first place I had ever owned, but into the first place where I would live on my own.

Prior to that, I’d been living with my mom — and a stone’s throw away from my brother and his family, including my 8-year-old niece Josie. In the weeks leading up to the move, as I picked out paint colors and furniture and excitedly envisioned life in my new neighborhood, I never imagined that, underneath all my enthusiasm, would lay a well of grief. When those first slow leaks began, I couldn’t understand why. This was such an exhilarating time of my life that even when others assured me that such a move might actually warrant a period of grieving, given how big of a transition it was and how close my family and I were, I remained resistant.

But eventually, the tears would not be kept in check. And I have to admit that once I allowed that release, I felt as if I’d opened myself up to appreciate the moving experience on another level.

By taking the time to actively mourn and let go of one part of my life — a process I know may still hold some emotional remnants in the next few months — I felt like I was creating the space to more confidently and joyously step into the next phase.

As I took my niece out for ice cream one night during that first week at my new place, I asked her how she felt now that I was 35 minutes away instead of five. Instead of the usual thumbs-up or down sign that she tends to give to such lines of questioning, she simply held out her hand, palm facing down.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

And then Josie — who, unable to pronounce my name as a toddler, took to calling me LaLa, a moniker that has stuck to this day — summed up exactly how I felt: “I’m happy for you but I’m sad, too.”

Yes, I was wildly happy for me but couldn’t deny that it was all a bittersweet experience.

And now I’m inviting you to join me here in this space I’m calling LaLa Land. It’s not that I expect life on my own to be vastly different from what it had been or to suddenly signal the arrival of countless new adventures to provide ample fodder for this column.

In truth, I’d been living a fairly fulfilling and in many ways adventurous life — at least in my own unique way — prior to becoming a homeowner.

But I welcome you along this leg of the journey nonetheless, where, as my friend who’s missing her children put it:

“Life is a series of losses because nothing is permanent. It’s all about change — sometimes wonderful, sometimes challenging.”

And it’s all an opportunity for growth.

Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times