A few years ago, Hannelore, my dear friend and coworker, lost her father during a most inopportune time. The country was in the midst of the Fasching season, a time of revelry, celebration, and carnival madness. Yet this was no time for her to partake in such festivities. She was in deep mourning. I had planned a New Orleans Mardi Gras-style party for my coworkers before this unfortunate event happened to her. To this day, I remain amazed at her incredible inner strength in the brief yet sweet respite she took from her sadness and grief.
Although the loss of her dear father had taken an obvious toll on her normally lively spirit, she came to work afterwards and functioned sufficiently, trying to hide her sorrow internally. But I could see through her brave front. She withdrew, smiling less, laughing less, interacting with others in a much more reserved manner, all the things that are opposite of what makes her such an endearing, charming friend and coworker.
Having lost both my parents, I readily empathized with her. So, I felt I needed a method to help gently steer her towards a path to recovery. Luckily in the early stages of planning the celebration at work, I thought of using the party as my strategy by asking her to attend. I expected her to decline to enjoy this occasion with us, but I had to try. Though I invited everyone to participate, I was hesitant about pushing this wild carnival revelry on her at this particular time. I had nothing to lose and much to gain. As a friend, I only wanted to briefly take her mind away from her sadness.
Excited about the party taking shape for Fat Tuesday, which was the next day, I sent out blanket email reminders to everyone. But my thoughts rested on Hannelore and her grief. Though she received the email too, I headed to her office to personally invite her. As I stood in the doorway of her office, I noticed that she sat hunched over her desk, working methodically on some paperwork, which seemed to hold little interest to her. I could see that her heart was heavy and that she was shrouded underneath a blanket of mourning. Hesitant to interrupt her, I slowly approached her, “Hi, are you gonna come to the party tomorrow?” With sadness in her eyes, she looked up and replied, “Unfortunately no, I don’t think so, not now.” Although I respected her wishes, I couldn’t and wouldn’t let it go at that. Something made me stay in place to gently push her a bit more to attend. I thought the office party would put her on a road to healing, if only for a brief period of time. I pressed on with, “Well, you know that the traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold. Could you at least wear one of those colors to kind of help us celebrate Fasching tomorrow”? Not looking up at me, she replied softly, “OK, I can do that.” I beamed inside at this minor yet major breakthrough for me. I continued with, “Great! And please come get something to eat, OK? We will have lots of all kinds of food.” Still without looking up at me, I saw that she smiled slightly and nodded in agreement. No more words were necessary. I left it at that.
The day of the party arrived, but my thoughts centered on her as I prepared for the day’s activities. Before I started to help decorate, I ran to her office, just to see if I could finally persuade her to attend the party rather than to see if she had worn one of the special colors for that day. As I entered her office, I was pleasantly surprised to see that she had on a pretty purple tunic. I smiled at that bit of success. I walked up to her desk and complimented her on her top. She smiled slightly, got up from her chair and spun around to proudly model it and to show the gold frog emblazoned on the front. I told her how cute it was and we both laughed at that. I was so happy for her that she felt lifted enough to take part in our celebration in some small way by wearing one of the Fasching colors. Before leaving her office, I reminded her again to come later to get something to eat because we had so much food for the day.
With the decorating completed, some of the ladies and I set up the other planned activities for this first-ever Mardi Gras party luncheon. We had games to play and songs to sing. I shared information about the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the traditions still practiced there after hundreds of years. Many coworkers showed up with colorful costumes, crazy hats, face masks or with their faces painted. As the party hostess, I donned my mask to complete the rest of my crazy homemade costume. After explaining more of the New Orleans traditions to the group, the time came for the awarding of prizes for the best costume.
I started the traditional Mardi Gras music and directed everyone to dance the Second Line, a traditional sassy Mardi Gras strut. I lead the dance line into the conference room to view the Mardi Gras slide presentation I created, the party favors and traditional symbolic Mardi Gras items lining the large conference room table. I kept my eye on the group to make sure that everyone was having a good time as I partied along with them to the funky music. It was good to see that everyone was deep into the carnival Fasching spirit and I was so proud of that.
But something, or should I say, someone caught my eye. It was my dear friend, Hannelore. She had on a colorful mask of feathers and a wig of long hair, which reached her waist. A jaunty black western-style hat sat askew on her wig and completed her Mardi Gras outfit. “Wow!” I thought, “This is nothing short of a small miracle.”
Though I mingled with the crowd to ensure everyone was having a good time, I kept my eye on Hannelore and was pleased to see that she joined in the celebration in full force as well. She sampled the various foods, she chatted with the other coworkers in costumes and she even joined in singing one of the traditional Mardi Gras songs. I smiled at her courage and felt intensely proud of her for letting go for a while.
Now I don’t take any credit for Hannelore’s decision to set aside her grief that day, even if it was just for a short while. Hard as I know it is to lose a loved one, I know that we eventually have to let them go. I felt honored to have been part of Hannelore’s healing process in this small way. And I can say with pride and admiration, that within a few weeks, she returned to her usual, smiling, charming self. And as many of her coworkers noticed, I was glad to see her return too.