Tommy’s memorial was this evening. Everything about the last few weeks was leading up to this. In some ways, I felt like I was producing a musical where the tech rehearsals, dress, and performance were going to happen simultaneously. I worried about technical glitches. I worried about not having people do justice to the material I selected. I worried about no one showing up. I shouldn’t have worried. Or, as a friend said, no one’s wig fell off so Tommy would be pleased.
The program went off flawlessly, from the music, to the heartfelt speakers, to the video montages and I felt by the end of it that maybe I had been able to capture just a little bit of the complex and brilliant man with whom I shared so many years and memories. Of course, it takes a village so a very public thank you to Ed Brock, Ruth Vann Lillian, Gary Packwood, Cynthia Perry MacCrae, Leah Luker, Brian Denton-Trujillo, Judy Jones, Ellise Pruitt Mayor, Paul McCracken, Linda Corliss, Patti Steelman, Emily Fleisig, and Jennie Moffitt, each of whom made an invaluable contribution to the evening.
Now that it’s over, I want nothing more than to be able to go up stairs, take my suit off, put my feet up, and tell Tommy ‘We did it, do we have to get up for something in the morning or can we sleep in?” and then make small talk while an episode of Star Trek plays on the TV and we both fall asleep and recharge to get ready for tomorrow’s list of projects. But that’s not possible and it’s just going to take me time to get used to that cold, hard fact.
Something over three hundred and thirty people gathered this evening. Both of our families. My church family. Opera folks. Music folks. Theater folks. Health care folks. It was topped off by the arrival of a proclamation from the mayor and city council honoring Tommy and his contributions to civic life over the years. It made me recognize just how embedded I have become in the Birmingham area over the last couple of decades and how rich both of our lives had been and how much I have to draw on as I start to move forward in whatever patterns start to make sense as the fog of mourning begins to clear.
Tonight’s story is about another memorial service, the one for Steve that took place in 2001. My loss of Steve was, in some ways similar to my loss of Tommy, and in some ways very different. The major difference was one of time. There was about a two year period between the time Steve fell ill and the time he finally died so we both had a lot of time to get used to the idea and it was no big surprise that death was going to part us. We didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it, we just lived day to day in the ways that we could depending on what his body would let him do.
He had gotten sick less than a year after our relocation from California to Birmingham and we were still reeling from culture shock and all of the issues that we had been coping with stemming from the collapse of the clinical geriatrics program at UC Davis when his health failed so we really didn’t have a lot of friends locally. Our support network was still on the west coast. When he finally did die, his memorial was relatively simple to arrange as it was for our UUCB church family and the very few friends we had managed to make. Creating a social circle when it’s hard to leave the house is not the easiest.
Steve died on a Wednesday morning. We had the memorial the following Sunday afternoon. It was early August in Birmingham which, of course. means hot and humid. It was a very hot day and everyone arrived at the old A-frame church in Mountain Brook in light summer dresses or seer sucker. The sun was beating down and the air conditioner was working over time. At the end of the service, just as the pianist was playing the final hymn, out of a clear blue sky, a thunderhead rolled in over Mountain Brook and the heavens opened and it began to pour. No one had an umbrella. Convertible tops were down in the parking lot. Everyone leaving the church got thoroughly soaked. The assembled congregation, on confronting the deluge, all looked up at the sky together and said ‘Steve’. He would have laughed like crazy at the scene and I can’t help but think that he had given the weather gods a little celestial nudge that day.
I don’t remember much else about the service, but I will never forget that aftermath. Tommy seems to have approved of his memorial. At least there were no sudden cloudbursts…and no one’s wig fell off.