There’s a saying in the entertainment industry: the show must go on. According to Wikipedia, it comes from the early 19th century circus business, where it reflected the ideal that regardless of what happened — an injured performer or an escaped animal — the circus never stopped. That expression has become a mantra for our modern society where, similar to its circus roots, it signifies our blind devotion to our work regardless of what’s transpiring with the people and environment around us.
I thought of that saying this week as I read about the death of Dennis Sheehan, the longtime tour manager for the rock band U2. I didn’t know Dennis personally, but a lot of people I love did. In my time in the concert business I got to know many tour managers and the teams of people who, behind the scenes, make the show go on night after night. They’re the invisible stars who, while traveling the roads of the world in tour busses, make possible the magic of the live concert business … as Dennis did so masterfully for 33 years with U2.
This time of year is always a challenge for me. The span between Mother’s Day, my mom’s birthday (July 3), and the anniversary of her death (July 18) always provokes a lot of emotion. I think Tiger Wood’s described it aptly a few weeks ago when, with rare vulnerability, he replied, “It’s just brutal on me,” after being asked about competing around the anniversary of his father’s death. The death of my mom, while being a spark that inspired so much beauty in my life, carries with it the very real pain of the little boy inside who would give anything for one more hug from his mommy. There is so much of my life that my mom will never see. Even now, six years after her passing, I often reach for the phone to share accomplishments or special moments only to remember she’s gone. In many ways I’ve become the man she knew I would, and there’s a sadness in knowing I can’t share that with her.
This year those feelings have been compounded. After the sudden death of Sheryl Sandberg’s husband, David Goldberg, I was asked to write a few articles on returning to work after the death of a loved one. In those sharings, I talked about the importance of connecting with others, of being real and honoring our feelings, the need to grieve, and — above all else — the value of being tender and gentle with ourselves throughout the process of grieving as we step back into the busyness of our daily lives.
It’s true that the show must go on. That’s life — it goes on. But it’s also true that death brings with it an invitation to reexamine our lives. It causes time to slow down a bit as we question the importance of the things we deemed important before the loss: our daily routines, our careers, our possessions, and even our hopes and dreams. Death invites us to open our hearts and experience parts of our lives that we’ve neglected. And, in this way, perhaps the show doesn’t just go on. Instead it pauses and morphs, causing something new to emerge as we move forward; a life that’s a little less show … a version of us that’s more authentic, genuine, and raw.
I was asked recently what I believe the message of death to be. I don’t like to answer questions like that in definitive terms, as though I have all the answers. But I did answer the question for myself with the simple answer connection and love. All around us, everywhere we look, are people experiencing grief. Losing someone close to us is an experience that all of us will go through at one point or another. This makes death a very real point of connection and a way of humanizing our interactions with the people around us. When we connect around the feelings of grief, pain, and sadness we go from being coworkers, employees, and acquaintances to being brothers, sisters, and friends. The result can be a lasting bond of unity and love. I think that’s the true essence of team spirit … people pulling together and being there for each other.
My mom, David Goldberg, Dennis Sheehan, and all of our loved ones who have passed, send a spark of love into the world. Their deaths cause us to stop, to look into our hearts, to allow emotion to surface, and to hold and support each other. This week I invite you to allow that spark into your busy life. Pause, breathe, smile often, love a little more, open your heart wide, and allow life to come pouring in. In the end, the real message of death is found in life itself … through living, loving and making its moments truly matter.
Big hugs of love … and life,