During a bitter February, not too far from the gates of Fenway Park, I held the hand of my friend while her life was forever changed. We were sophomores in college, and aside from the occasional slashes to our self-esteem, inflicted by drama teachers critiquing our monologues or vocal coaches ranting about our inability to belt high F’s and what that meant for our futures on Broadway, we had yet to experience personal tragedy. But this evening would burst that bubble with a loud and abrasive pop and toss us rudely into a premature reality.
The shocking news of her mother’s death shook her two bedroom apartment and subsequently all whom attended our Musical Theatre program. It has been fifteen years, and the date remains burned in my memory.
Each passing February, as the 16th approached, I would send a card or flowers. After about a decade, I started sending simple “I love you” texts. And recently, I didn’t acknowledge it at all…at least not outwardly. This wasn’t because she has lost her place in my most dear and special circle of friends. Quite the contrary. She remains one of my best and kindred spirits and ours is a friendship I have never for a millisecond questioned.
My choice to let the day pass without a reminder was a conscious one. She has recently married and is happier than I have ever seen her. Her life is moving in a direction that is overflowing with love, fulfillment and abundance. The peace that she has found surrounding her mother’s life and untimely death is awe-inspiring and I felt it no longer necessary to send a reminder of that specific tragic day. I believe I got my cue from her one recent year when she said “Wow. I didn’t even think about it being 16th.”
So, as my own personal tragedies are fresher than those with 15 years distance, I have thought a lot about how to honor these days of which I am still very much aware.
When we are thrown to the floor with shocking news, our clock begins to revolve around that specific incident. If it occurred at 7:00 pm on a Tuesday, on the 18th of April, we take note when the clock strikes 7:00 on the evening of April 19th, and every subsequent Tuesday until May 18th, and every 18th until we reach the first year anniversary. For the first few years, more or less, everything on that anniversary is ominously colored by the day’s significance. But I believe with each passing year, it becomes easier to memorialize our loved ones with celebration, rejoicing in the time we had with them. At least, this is what I have witnessed in my friend.
I am not yet at the point where April 18th doesn’t carry with it heavy weight. One of the most influential, loving, and creative men I have known left us six years ago yesterday. My sisters, my Mom and I all connected with one another in some way throughout the day. Some of us spoke about the loss of Dad directly, others about menial matters, with just an undercurrent of awareness, but however subtle, all of us sent an energetic squeeze across the miles. With six of us in our immediate family, that doesn’t often happen all in one day.
At 10:00 pm last night, I ended the day with a phone call to one of my sisters. She read to me an excerpt from her Graduate School Master’s Thesis, written shortly after my father’s death. I had been at a loss for how to honor the day and whether or not to write about it. When I heard this, I realized I couldn’t have said it better.
…”As a middle child of five begins on her journey to find what matters to her most outside of the strong influences of her unique family collage, she imagines many futures, but spends little time in the anticipation that after the trail largely circles it will always magnetically draw her footsteps back to the place she started.
Nothing makes sense on my road, as it brushes round and round, without the coming home, again and again. In that resting place, there is synchronicity and deep appreciation for a mother and a father who are forever exquisite beings. This work is in honor of Sandra Rozek, a speech pathologist whose strength, wisdom, and continuous full-time motherhood defines her. My mother, who is also my friend, continues to make my multi-layered curiosity and caring possible. Lastly, this work is in loving memory of Kenneth Rozek, an artist and a teacher whose fatherhood always came first and the rest of him was simply magic. I never dreamed I would finish this compilation without his physical presence. I know now, more than ever, that without him none of my endeavors would ever be as joyful and meaningful as they are. He was a dad who never fit any stereotypes and with whom I could laugh, philosophize, talk about God, and share my life’s passion; which I guess, is laughing, philosophizing, talking about God, and, of course, art! One cannot be more blessed than I am for all that I have through this family of seven. They taught me how to laugh at myself, a strength I am grateful to have in this humbling work”
Marisa Rozek, 2006, masters thesis dedication