What It Was Like To Attend My 50th College Reunion Without My Spouse
My husband Peter and I both attended the University of Pennsylvania in the sixties. He was a BMOC (big man on campus) who ended up taking an extra year “time out” to regroup. Therefore, while I was a freshman, he was a senior. I knew all about him and his escapades at Penn. Peter was a legend at Penn and not always in a good way. He knew all about me, as well and my run for Miss Student Body, aka Miss University, and subsequent loss to Candice Bergen. Peter and I never actually met until after college which was fortunate. When we finally met four years later, I was wearing a faux fur mini skirt and he was wearing khakis. It was true love seen through a myopic lens. Cupid knocked us for a loop and we married four months after that moment!
Penn held so many memories for us. We attended each other’s reunions. We went to our 25th, 40th, and five years ago, we attended Peter’s 50th class reunion. A year ago, we booked reservations to go to Philadelphia for my 50th Penn reunion. Peter’s death changed those plans and now I was attending by myself. Well actually, I wasn’t totally by myself. It was my son Nick’s 25th reunion at the same school, which gave me the courage to attend.
I arrived on campus on a sunny and balmy afternoon and strolled through the beautiful old University buildings including the Van Pelt Library where I spent time studying. I was immediately flooded with memories and the damn burst. Tears started streaming down my face and I called my son who talked me off the ledge. Nick reminded me that the library was a place Peter NEVER set foot in and my tears immediately turned to laughter. I am so grateful that Nick inherited Peter’s sense of humor and knows the perfect time to put it to brilliant use. I pulled myself together and managed to attend the dinner that night facing a lot of people, for the first time. I realized that just when you think you are through the stage of sobbing while seeing new people, emotions play havoc with your psyche and the floodgates open at full blast.
A week before the reunion, I was contacted about facilitating a women’s breakfast about the transitions our classmates have experienced over the last 50 years. I was hesitant at first but realized my life had just taken a 180-degree transition with Peter’s death so I decided to go for it. I started talking about my career in the food writing world, and then the sharp painful path of grief that befell me. I was able to expound on how blogging about grief has helped me adjust to my new normal. I was so pleased to see others talk openly about grief, loss, and transitions. So many of us wanted to share our stories and it felt like a new community of friends was created which comforted me enormously.
Fifty years is a long time, so the decision to wear badges with our names and yearbook pictures was a wise decision! Most of us spent time just staring at the badges with quizzical looks on our faces trying to remember our friends. I buddied up with two pals I knew would help me. We picked up a few new friends who fit into our posse, and we marched en masse to each of the events. I hung out with the Beta house guys as well, who turned out to be much fun and supplied us with lots of booze, keeping up their sacred fraternity traditions.
After the reunion, on a cold blustery Sunday May morning, my son and I boarded the Acela train to New York. I felt glad that I had managed to face the memories head on and came out just a little bit stronger. When I reached New York the tears flowed again. It was the first time I had been back to Manhattan without Peter and it was hard to face the city where we began our life together, filled with so many precious memories. But, the promise of two tickets to the show Hamilton, procured six months previous, helped to ease some of the pain. When I saw this astounding show, I know that Peter would have loved to be in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “room where it happens.”