Jay walked in and there was applause. I heard from where I stood in the reception area despite the fact that Jay had entered at up a flight of stairs and across a lounge area. I was among the bustle of those who were setting up tables and arraying the t-shirts on them. There was an hour until the official beginning of the event, but with Jay’s arrival the show had already begun. All of us turned, aware of the arrival of Jay.
People began to accumulate as the start hour approached. Friends greeted each other and clustered in little groups, none of us quite sure how we were supposed to be feeling about this event. A wake is a strange thing when the object of it has just smiled and hugged you. We were there to celebrate and to grieve, yet the largest portion of the grief is still incoming, we all know this. We hear it like the whistle of a WWII bomb that we know will cause damage, but we’re not sure yet where or when it will land. The urge is to duck and cover, instead these friends of Jay gathered, smiled, laughed, and admitted to each other that this thing we were doing was kind of weird. None of us doubted that it was right. Jay needed a party and that was borne out as he ended the evening as energetic as he’d arrived.
Food makes many things better. After we all sat in the banquet room, after six friends bore Jay into the room in a casket to tumultuous laughter and applause, after Jay jumped out and made us laugh again, then we all filed through the buffet lines. Just the act of selecting seats had settled some uncertainty, the food resolved more. We all know how dinners go. It was familiar and we knew our roles. I watched everyone settle in to conversations. Some of them were about Jay or about the event, but mostly people spoke of other things. Various groups broke out into laughter. We did a fair amount of laughing and storytelling ourselves.
Most of the people were unfamiliar to me with the exception of a few people I’ve met at other events. Then there were the other familiar faces, people I’ve never met, but whom I’ve seen in photographs while assembling the Jay Wake Book. I sometimes tracked their progress through the crowd, wondering how they are doing, because I know that Jay means much to them. I’ve read their stories. After most of the dinner was gone, there were announcements. I stood in front of the crowd of strangers and friends. I explained the Jay Wake Book and expressed hope that everyone would send me something. (Please do. email@example.com) I’m sure I didn’t say it right, that some other arrangement of words would have been better. Howard tells me that I said what was necessary, but I can’t even remember what words I used. This frustrates the part of my brain that would like to analyze and figure out what they ought to have been. I did not rehearse them ahead of time as is my usual habit. I wonder why I did not. I was distracted perhaps.
When my plea for submissions was finished, I presented the first iteration book to Jay. It is a proof of concept, incomplete and imperfect. Each submission is there in full, but I know which stories are waiting in email, and I have list of people who have told me they want to send something. I will do better on the final version, make sure that the cover is better placed and centered. Jay thanked me and I handed the microphone to the master of ceremonies. Howard waited for me and we sat together to listen to the next portion of the program. There were other gifts, many of them cause for laughter.
I understand how a good roast can be wonderful and cathartic. Laughter is healing. Yet they are uncomfortable for me. As the evening started switching gears into the roast of Jay, Howard and I quietly exited. We visited with some friends in the reception area to the occasional sound of uproarious laughter that came from behind the doors of the banquet hall. The speakers were doing their jobs well. I think Jay laughed loudest.
It was late when the doors opened and the crowds emerged. They all smiled, some looked a little teary. A part of me regrets that I did not stay to hear all the words, but I know my limits. This event was an emotional ride for everyone involved, probably most especially for Jay. In fact many of Jay’s nearest and dearest did not attend at all or left early. Grief is complicated and individualized. Two people may have the same cause for grief, but they travel very different paths through the landscape it creates. What heals and enlivens one person can be wounding knives to another. One of the wonderful things about Jay is that he understands this. Most of his close friends do too, because Jay draws amazing people to him. Or maybe he teaches it to them.
I wandered the banquet hall as groups of people paused in their departure. I perused the tables to see if anyone had filled out submission forms that I needed to pick up. A few had been delivered to me. Mostly they were pocketed and people would likely email me later. I hope. I want the Jay Wake Book to be quite thick. I collected the “Things I Learned from Jay” notes off of the wall and folded them to be put in the book later. There is much work for me to do in the weeks to come in order to follow through on that project. But for the evening my job was complete.
Howard and I wandered the reception area. Often at Howard and I circulate separately during public events, but we stayed together for this. It was not a part of a plan, just what happened, perhaps because Howard did not need additional space to wear his public event face. Or maybe we wanted to stay close. We were sitting together when Jay came to say goodnight. He thanked us for all we did for the event. Jay was not the first, nor the last, to thank us. These thanks felt strange, because Howard and I feel like we did not do that much, not compared to others. We just did a few things that obviously needed skills we have. We feel honored that we could be of use on this occasion.
We lingered as the crowds dispersed, the individual participants in this event scattered out into the night and Jay Wake was completed. Yet each person carried a piece of the event with them, so perhaps it has not ended, but rather become diffused and will spread like a meme. We went to bed tired both physically and emotionally.
We sat with Jay and Lisa as they ate breakfast the next morning. It was the first chance I’ve ever had to visit with Lisa. I am now quite certain that Jay’s heart and health are in excellent hands. Howard and I were glad to have that quiet hour to visit without interruption. We felt a little selfish in taking it, because there are many others who would like an hour with Jay. Yet the hour was there and we did not waste it. The conversation was likely the same sort of conversation that Jay has often, we talked much about the current state of Jay. I suspect these conversations can be wearying. Though I hope we traded some good company and laughter for the life review.
Then we collected our things, tucked our memories of Jay Wake into our hearts, and departed for the airport. This was a wonderful difficult trip and I’m so very glad we were able to go.