Season Tickets (https://www.facebook.com/BarbaraFieldOnGrief)
Butch played on our high school soccer team when people barely knew that soccer existed. I was often the only fan at the field. He hoped our sons would love soccer as much as he did, but did not force it on them. They both discovered soccer early, played at various youth soccer levels, and continue to play recreationally as adults.
When our oldest son began playing professional, indoor soccer at our local arena, it was very exciting. After years of financing his advance up the youth soccer ladder, the money was finally going to flow into his pocket rather than out of ours. Butch met him at the stadium during practice one day to consider which seats he wanted to select for our season tickets. On a limited budget, he literally sat in seats in multiple locations to decide which were the very best seats available at the price he could afford. They were great seats. The people who sat around us were lots of fun. They knew we were parents and cheered extra hard for our son as if we were all family. Butch was really pleased with himself for his seat selecting prowess. I appreciated what a great support he was to our son and how hard he worked to get us the best possible seats.
The next year, we saved up for box seats and Butch hunted for and chose the most perfect seats ever. It was always funny to listen to the people sitting behind us as they criticized the various players and their play. Our son, who had a combination of both our features, didn’t look especially like either of us. Nearby fans would have had no reason to suspect we were parents rather than typical fans. During the half-time break, we would chat with those seated near us. The discussion regularly turned to their asking what was our affiliation with the team and a description of theirs. The look on their faces was priceless when we told them we were our son’s parents. You could sort of see them searching their memory banks to recall whether they had been especially critical of him without knowing his parents were sitting right there listening. It was interesting that the parents in the low rent district were more typically encouraging of the players and the team while the fans in the box seats were so critical.
I was an insurance agent at that time. On occasion, we would be invited to sit in a corporate box with one of my business associates. It was a great networking opportunity. Butch was never especially excited about giving away our seats to schmooze with my clients. On one such occasion, I let him know I had corporate tickets and asked him who he would like to contact to give away our regular seats. He ignored my question. First thing in the morning I remembered he hadn’t replied so I asked him again as we were getting ready to rush out the door to work. I was stunned when he crabbily announced that he was going to sit in his seats and I could sit wherever I wanted as he stormed out the door.
After three rounds of marriage counseling, we did not typically do that kind of thing anymore. So knew I had somehow done something hurtful to cause him to respond like a lion with a thorn in its paw. It only took a moment to come to my senses. I realized it must seem to him that I considered him and his seats to be inferior to what I was being offered by my rich clients. I felt so terrible. He had gone to great effort to get us the very best he could afford and I had carelessly thrown them aside when a seemingly more worthy offer was made. He attended the games to support our son and the team, not hang out in a lounge with strangers. I could easily pop up to the box and say hello without abandoning my carefully chosen seats and our band of merry fans. Truth be told, it was much more exciting outside the box than inside. The lounges were walled off from the game, it was actually more difficult to feel engaged in the action, and they were farther from the field than our regular seats. I called to tell him how sorry I was for my insensitivity and ingratitude and we had a great time in our regular seats.
Our two precious granddaughters, ages 6 and 7, are now playing soccer. It is such a mixed emotional experience. Watching them each express their spunky personalities and follow in the footsteps of Butch and our sons is so fun. I can hear him quietly chuckling as they exuberantly plow down the field, running wildly in every direction. Unlike their fathers, the girls seem much more focused on the relational experience of hanging out with their buddies than the game. There is so much hugging and celebrating that you would never have seen from the boys. It is wonderful to see their very competitive fathers simply enjoy the fun rather than push them toward perfection. It is also very sad that Butch is not here to watch them discovering soccer when it was so much a part of our lives together.
Becoming us without them means accepting that we cannot avoid suddenly stepping onto new land mines that we don’t see coming. No matter how long since their death, it will be painful every time. Always, there are others nearby, living out our dreams. Again and again we are forced to let go of the carefully selected future we envisioned, and embrace what can feel like the inferior version.
We can grow weary on the journey. All around us we see those who still have what we lost. It is easy to slip into bitterness and resentment. Only with the continued support of our friends, family and grieving mentors can we learn to find joy again. Allowing others to show us that they are glad to be with us, even on the bad days, fills the emptiness and enables us to look to the future with hope. We are able to receive the gifts that are available right here, right now, and savor the life we are creating.
I would give anything to be sitting in our perfect seats, surrounded by our band of merry fans instead of standing on the side of a soccer field watching our girls without him. But if I choose to remain behind a wall of pain, I completely devalue the lifetime he spent loving me and trying hard to make me happy. And that is much worse.