When Claire was in kindergarten, Shawn and I teamed up with two other couples to throw a party to benefit our kids’ elementary school. Since that first time, the now-infamous 90s party has happened every spring at our house. This year would be no different, and part of that was because of Shawn. When he was in the hospital, I remember telling him that we’d do things to protect his immunity during the chemo treatments, including cancelling the 90s party. “What?” he’d said, horrified, when I brought it up. “You can’t cancel it!” So we decided we’d throw the party anyway, and figure out a venue later, if Shawn was still on chemo.
God, I can’t believe there was a part of me that envisioned him back in good health for this party.
Instead, he is gone and just thinking about throwing this party without him was crushing to me after he died. But in the end, I decided that Shawn would not want me to crawl into bed and never come out. Shawn knew I loved parties and he knew I loved people. He knew I really loved the 90s party.
So, just like every year, we had the party and we had it at our house. (Though I guess I should say that it was my house. That’s a phrase I still can’t get quite used to.) The other families who throw the party with us came over and helped set up. Kids ran everywhere as we moved furniture and set up tents and planned for how we were going to fit 80+ people inside my house. It took most of the day.
At least a half-dozen times during set-up, I had these millisecond moments where I would think, “where is Shawn?” or “did Shawn finish setting up the DJ booth?” It just kept happening. Right after he died, I had these moments all the time, but they’ve become less frequent. During the party set-up, however, I just kept thinking he would show up at any moment.
And then, obviously, I would realize that he wasn’t going to be showing up and I’d have that crushing sensation that always follows.
Each time it happened during the set-up on Saturday, I would think – very deliberately – about Shawn’s wishes for me. We didn’t talk in depth about the 90s party specifically, but he was clear that I needed to continue to lead a full life without him. That feels impossible at times, but it’s also something I’m trying to pointedly remind myself about each time that special events or holidays roll around. He wanted me to keep living, that I know.
And honestly, there’s no better way for me to feel alive than to throw the 90s party and show up in my favorite 90s outfit – my high school cheerleading uniform. My friend Kelly came into town from Ann Arbor this weekend and wore her own high school cheerleading uniform because she’s awesome like that. We looked ridiculous and laughed more than I’ve laughed in a long time as we got ready.
That evening, the party started slowly, but picked up quickly. I had stressed a little beforehand about how I would react when I encountered people that I hadn’t seen in months. As expected, a few people wanted to talk more seriously to me, or offer an extra hug. But that was okay, because it was authentic. The rest of the people just wanted to laugh and dance with me, and that was wonderful. I think when you have the Spice Girls and Bel Biv DeVoe playing in the background, things can’t ever be too serious.
But of course it was hard too. Shawn loved the music and he was always the DJ for this party. He had three different 90s party playlists and he loved standing behind the DJ booth and just watching everyone have a great time. So when one of his favorite 90s dance songs, “Shoop,” came on the playlist, I felt my heart sink. “Oh,” I said to Kelly.
I actually physically grabbed my heart while I said it.
At that moment, I had the best kind of flashback of a time with Shawn, one I think was from a previous 90s party, or maybe every 90s party we’d had. In my flashback, he put on “Shoop” and got out on the dance floor and sang every word to the song.
It hit me like a knife. He was gone, and I was feeling the stab of pain just as “here I go, here I go, here I go again,” started bringing everyone to the dance floor.
Kelly reached for my hand. Maybe she remembered the song was a favorite of Shawn’s or maybe she’s a therapist so she could see it in my eyes. But I think she took my hand because she’s my dear friend and she knows that with the happy moments can come dreadful sadness too.
I could have cried, and everyone would have understood. But something in that ridiculous song made me think about how Shawn would have wanted it. He would have wanted a party and a damn fun one. He would have wanted me to embrace the happy that was there, and he would have wanted me to be with so many people who loved me. So instead of crying I went and got the jello shots, and we all took one.
And then we kept dancing to Salt-N-Pepa. Just as Shawn would have wanted.
Image Credit: Becky Hale.