The Party I Never Wanted To Throw
The “Celebration of Life” for Pete happened nearly six weeks after he died. The pressure to make it perfect weighed heavily on me. I had one chance to get it right, and I wasn’t used to that. I even had two opportunities to get my wedding right (my first wedding, then my second wedding), but a “funeral” only happens once. I wanted to honor Pete first and foremost-absolutely the priority. I also wanted to honor Sean and James, my kids and Pete’s stepchildren. I wanted to honor his family-a large group of the most wonderful and supportive people on earth. I wanted to honor Pete’s fans whom he counted all as friends, and who came from all over the world to be there. I wanted to honor his friends and fellow musicians, most of whom have known him longer than I have. Finally, I wanted to honor my parents and family who had embraced Pete whole-heartedly.
I’m not giving advice here. Everyone has different rituals on different timelines. Pete didn’t want to be buried. He wanted to be cremated. So that gave me some time to figure things out. Many people don’t have that luxury of time, but I did, so I drug my feet. I slowed down the process as much as I could. I postponed having to acknowledge the reality of what was happening-I was giving the final send-off to my best friend.
I thought to myself that if I never had to have a service it would be okay with me. Let’s just skip this whole process. It’s so painful-I just need space to breathe, and time to wrap my mind around things. I was fortunate that there were people around me who knew that “the show must go on.” In true Nashville tradition, we got all of our friends together in one place, and made music. I couldn’t even begin to include all of Pete’s fellow musicians in the concert. We would have had to book Titans stadium for a weekend to have all of them perform. (Oh, wouldn’t that have been grand.)
I am aware that I was the only one putting pressure on myself about that night. Everyone around me was more than supportive and willing to take on any job that I had the energy to delegate. Most of them didn’t wait for me to delegate. They just stepped up and did what needed to be done, including the great team of friends producing the show. All I had to do was to listen to their ideas and determine if Pete would concur.
Before I rhapsodize about the event I want to share with you that I spent a lot of time empathizing with others in my shoes. I spent hours considering how lucky I was to have so much help, to have access to such amazingly talented performers. I had such empathy for women and men who have had to make quick, and expensive, decisions regarding funeral services in their worst distress and most vulnerable moments. I hate that anyone has to go through that.
I had the luxury of dragging my feet. I would have drug them for a year if I could have. For most events/concerts of this scale, people have months and months to plan. “Funerals” turn on a dime. You don’t need one, then, all of a sudden, you do. “Hello, are you at the lowest point in your life? Okay, let’s throw a party.”
But what a night it was. The lineup of performers was incredible. The speakers were meaningful. Easily fifty people in the crowd that night at City Winery should have been on that stage.
I was terrified. What to wear? How do I look? How am I supposed to look? How do I behave? How the HELL do I do this without Pete by my side-without Pete on stage? I was shaking and terrified to be the center of attention at this particular event. Would it be a bad thing if I just stayed home? But I was already there and I knew what I had to do. I had to open the doors and hold my breath until it was over. The fear of people feeling sorry for me or taking pity on me was more than I could handle. I thought it would give me a heart attack. How do I handle the sad looks, the embraces, the tears? I think I might die on the spot.
That wasn’t what happened though. I walked out in the midst of the crowd filing in at the City Winery in Nashville. (Pete would laugh knowingly-of course Erin had the service at a winery.) Something really strange happened. People started hugging me and loving me, and it was a relief. I relaxed. It felt good to me, and I sensed it felt good to them. Nobody was more surprised than I was at just how much I needed those responses that night.
The speeches and performances were meaningful and heartfelt. The applause, the laughs, the tears, all in perfect order. Our friends physically and emotionally filled the room. I was so present and able to appreciate what was happening. I’m glad I didn’t stay home that night. It was perfect. Pete would concur.