I had signed up for Musical Theatre, a class at the local Arts Centre. The thought of getting up and singing in front of an audience after a twenty-year hiatus scared the crap out of me, which was precisely why I wanted to do it; to step out of my comfort zone. A man I had briefly dated had once said to me, ‘ Are you sure you want to do that? With your low and gravelly voice?’
‘Screw you,’ I thought. For that very reason, I signed up.
It was nerve-wracking and I struggled with the fear that I would get up on stage and botch it supremely. Hilary was supportive and told me that I could do it and to not let the criticism of a guy (whom she’d never met but had already decided she heartily disliked), discourage me from going for it.
After her death, I wasn’t sure I should or could. I was afraid people would think I was getting on with my life far too soon after losing her, but I realized that to not go ahead was like letting fear and doubt win, so I went for it. I’d missed a couple of classes and only returned for the dress rehearsal. Both teachers, Susan and Yo, and my fellow students were amazingly supportive and created such a safe space. Susan assured me that if I decided not to sing in the final performance, but rather just come to hang out with the gang, that would be fine too. My decision was made based on the fact that if I didn’t show up, I’d just be sitting at home feeling sorry for myself, and kicking myself for not following through. I pushed through my misgivings and put on my costume and make-up and showed up.
When you make it to the other side of the greatest loss imaginable, you realize that it would take a lot more than stage fright to take you out. So what if I bombed? What was the worst thing that could happen? The audience would applaud politely and forget me as they sipped their morning coffee the next day.
I remember walking through the back hallway towards my stage entrance, my mic was in place, and I was listening to my fellow-student, Deborah begin her song. I was next, and as I quietly stood at the back of the theatre, there was an unbelievable calm. I had no jitters; my heart wasn’t racing and there was a giddy sense of excitement to get in front of the audience and just sing my three-minute song. Cue music. I entered from upstage right into the spotlight. I vaguely remembered seeing my sister in the front row and was glad that we had been instructed to focus our gaze at the control booth at the back of the stage above the seats. I didn’t want to see anyone. As I sang, I was aware that my timing was off and I was not synchronized with the backing track, but I didn’t care; I knew I would catch up. I was having a conversation in my head the whole time I was singing; ‘Oh my gosh, I’m actually doing it. I’m singing in front of an audience and there is no fear. I’m doing it!’
As if being led, I looked to the upper-most right-hand corner of the theatre where I noticed a bright stage light. In my minds eye, I could see Hilary watching from the rafters. ‘I’m going to go for it,’ I decided. In practice, my voice would crack or disappear altogether when I would attempt hitting the higher notes that Ella Fitzgerald sang in her rendition of Someone to Watch Over Me. Not tonight. Tonight, I’m singing for Hilary and I will not disappoint her. I took the final line of the song and raised it up to those rafters from where I was sure Hilary was watching. Perfection—at least for an amateur. And then the applause. I could hear my friends whooping it up from the middle of the audience. With an almost imperceptible grin on my face, I exited to where my fellow students were waiting back-stage. Hugs, high-fives and congratulations greeted me. Relief. And then the tears. Tears that I had finished what I’d started and Hilary would have been proud. Tears for the realization that I’d no longer have this distraction from my grief. It was a bittersweet crescendo at the end of a symphony.
As Nora McInerny says in her Ted Talk about grief, grieving isn’t about moving on, rather it’s about moving forward. You carry your loved one with you wherever you go, into your new normal, whatever that looks like. The grief will continue; there is no expiry date. But you are allowed to move forward with your life—enjoy it, even. After all, the show indeed must go on.
Yes and amen.