Sorry About the Mess: Entertaining Through Personal Tragedy -The Toast

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Laura Jayne Martin’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.

The purpose of a party is to have fun together. What better time to have fun than after you’ve endured an inconceivable loss, the rayless depths from which you feel you may never fully ascend? A successful party takes planning and skill. Whether it’s a game party in a home, a birthday party, a dinner party, or just a casual get-together with a small group of friends who’ve insisted on dropping by to make sure you are performing the basic tasks necessary to keep yourself alive—they should all be fun!

Think about your entertaining style. Are you more of a cook, a conversationalist, or maybe you just like to lay on your loveseat and stare at the floor while people pepper you with inane questions like: “Where is your dish soap?” or “Did you know the terrace door was wide open?” or “Have you thought about maybe just getting rid of this place and moving back home for now?” 

You have to follow your natural inclinations as a host in order for the fun of the party to grow organically. Your guests don’t want things to feel forced. With the obvious exceptions being when they force themselves inside of your apartment and when they force you inside of the shower. All you need to do now is push aside the wreckage of your condition, follow this handy planning guide, and your guests will be sure to have fun. 

Planning Your Party!

Don’t waste your time with other entertaining advice. This guide is agile and can be applied to a multitude of personal tragedy. Whether your loved one left, was killed by a drunk driver, endured a horrific diagnosis, is missing in the desert, your attacker is still free, or your soul just finally exploded—there is something in here for you. 

While pausing momentarily from the pitch-dark abyss created in the heartbreaking aftermath of your life cataclysm, the four aspects of the party you will want to focus on planning are:

  1. Guest List
  2. Invitations
  3. Refreshments
  4. Entertainment

1. The Guest List 

Who will you ask? Well, there will be you, and of course, the relentless ghost of your specific tragedy, so that’s two. 

You‘ll want to set the number of guests according to the amount of space your home can afford. For example, if you haven’t done laundry in several months, and your sofa has evolved into your bed—you may need to adjust the seating chart substantially from the last party you threw or was forced upon you like a cross between an intervention and a home invasion. 

Consider limiting the affair to a few close friends and family members whom you haven’t alienated in your grief—or public displays of your grief in churches, the R train, plazas, farmer’s markets, pharmacy self-checkout lines, or local press conferences. Also, designate a place for coats—that pile of your own coats in the middle of the floor is probably fine.

2. Invitations

Thanks to all the major advancements in technology there is a treasure trove of neat ways to let people know about your upcoming plans: the telephone, text messaging, email, online chat services, and social networking sites. If you completely stop using all of these, people will likely be at your door soon enough. 

If you’re more traditional, you may want to write each guest a small card and post it in the mail. You don’t have to spend a fortune on card stock to get your point across, nor do you need to hire a calligrapher to address them—but it does look beautiful and make an elegant impression. However, try to remember that this is just an informal party and also you aren’t actually inviting anyone because you have been swallowed whole by time and the purity of your own anguish.  

3. Refreshments

The next item of business is what to serve for refreshments—sandwiches and hot cocoa, perhaps?  Or should everyone just share your lemon-lime Gatorade and that half bottle of Maker’s Mark?  I suppose, if they get peckish, people could always nibble on the decorative wax drips from the side of the bourbon bottle. Plus, it’s nice to have a creative snack that helps to offset your more subdued main course of ice cubes. 

Whatever you serve will be augmented by a seasonal table setting. If your tragedy occurred in spring, it might be summer by the time they come for you the festivities take place.  Start with a relevant design theme, something like “Beach Linen,” “Refined Rustic,” or “The Cruel Wind Of Fate Bore Down On Me And Now My Life Is In Shambles.”  Consider mixing patterns to create texture and interest, perhaps adding elements like tin cups filled with fresh cut blooms, or moving that shirt you used to clean up your puke after you cried so hard that you puked.

Also, don’t forget to clean any crystal, china, or silver you will be using—and probably the puke under that shirt.

4. Entertainment

Brighten the lights to a dim glow and light some candles to set a welcoming tone.  If you’re in a pinch and don’t have any luxury scented candles, just leave a bunch of lit cigarettes in different askew ashtrays—you’ve likely done so already. You’re just that good. 

Now everything is set, the guests have arrived—despite not RSVP’ing to the invitations you did not send—and you’re wearing your party outfit, which conveniently is also your non-party outfit. Now, let the fun begin! 

The best thing for breaking the ice is one of several prescriptions you were given to “help you get some sleep music.  A well-curated playlist will have your guests feeling lively without hindering any conversation—especially the one about how all of the people in this room are here for you, are going to help you through this, and love you very much.  And they do, they really do.

Laura Jayne Martin lives and writes in NYC.

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