I arrived at my annual software conference around 8am – the time the doors where scheduled to be open. I went into the amphitheater, and immediately saw that the back-row corner seat was taken – damn. That is my safe seat. I own the back corner seat – no matter where I go. I tried but failed to find out who the devil was who owned the bag reserving the seat. So I did the unthinkable – I moved her bag over to the second chair and I settled into the end chair of the fifth row – my seat!
That is my safe spot; my safe place at these conferences and meetings. I have come to learn that I need an easy escape, an easy way out. And there is no better seat for an unobstructed exit than the back row corner seat.
I also attend a business networking group on a regular basis. I know all the people there, I work on many of their computers, and I am friends with many of them. But there again, I have a specific seat. It is in the corner of the table set up like a U. The corner that is closest to the door. That is my safe place, my safe seat – and every week that is where I sit.
Why these specific seats? Why after all this time I still need this safe place? Is it an OCD thing? Not really. It is more of a comfort level.
For months after we lost Andrew I could not go to these meetings for fear of losing it emotionally. For the fear of someone bringing up how great their son is, or that they are going to college to visit their child, or anything that would just be too hard for me to handle in public. Anything that would make me fall apart in front of so many people. So the first meeting I did attend, which was months later, I sat at the end of the table. I had my keys in my pocket, one eye always on the door, and just felt so unsettled. But it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t easy, but it was doable. And the fact that I had that out, that I had that straight, unblocked path to the exit, made it bearable.
During those first few meetings, and all the way through the first year or two, people have come up to me to talk about my beloved Andrew. They would talk about my writings, about their experiences, about how my writing has affected them. I love to hear that. I love to hear that my writing is helping others, and that others are benefiting from or passing along my posts. That is why I write them. And sometimes when I hear that, when we talk about Andrew or the website, I do shed a tear, I do find it hard to get words out of my throat, I find it hard to keep it together. But I need to hear it, I need to know that Andrew is still helping others, that his short sweet life and sudden passing is helping others. It keeps me going, keeps me motivated to write, and keeps me motivated to just get out of bed every day. But I must have my out; I need to know I can say thank you and walk away. For me to talk, or even listen the way I do, I need to know that I can get out fast. That gives me comfort.
This is my advice to other bereaved parents. I know that you are afraid to go out, that you are afraid to interact with others. I have been there, and have talked to so many people who have been there, or who unfortunately are stuck there for years. Dorothy and I felt that way for a long, long time. It took us a while, a real long while, to feel comfortable enough to go out to an event or a party or wedding. Afraid that if we did lose it, if we saw something that brought our pain to the surface, we would be stuck in our seats – or if we tried to get out we would make a scene and have to ask others to move in order for us to get out and hide.
That is when someone taught us what I am passing along today. Plan your escape. Plan your way out. Don’t let your grief and your loss make you stop living. Maybe your loss is so new, so close that you can never image that you would ever go out again. But trust me, trust every other bereaved parent, that one day you will go out. One day you will resume your life – to some degree. You will have to go to a best friend’s wedding, a business conference, Thanksgiving dinner, or even to the movies. Plan ahead, that is all there is to it. Get there a few minutes early to get those seats that can get you out in a hurry. Get end-of-the-row seats in a theater, get that corner seat near the door at a show, or get the seats farther from the dance floor. Our children want us to go on. They want us to remember and honor them, but in life and in living – not in pain and isolation. All in time though. All in your own time.