I was thinking a lot about my dad recently. I go thru periods where I think of him constantly and then I can go weeks without thinking about him at all. If you told me that ten years ago I would have told you that you were crazy. I guess I get caught up in the day to day business of living. I am always so surprised that I don’t dream about him more. I always thought he would show up in my dreams more. It’s funny how our dreams work. I don’t understand them. They are so random and bizarre. I never dream about the people I love , why is that? Anyway I was thinking about the blog I wrote called Monsoon in Chinatown; a letter to my father. I wrote that years ago after he died. It was an exercise to help me get over his death. I posted it below in a previous post. I was told by a therapist it might help to write him a goodbye letter. So I did. It was a long private letter but I posted part of it. I never spoke about the day he died but It was the worst day of my 38 years of living. I felt like writing about it today. I remember being depressed, vacant, sick, scared and well not very present. I was there but I wasn’t there. I think somehow my brain couldn’t handle all the emotion so it shut off. I wasn’t myself and I was somewhere inside myself. I felt like a turtle who went back into it’s shell. I know this seemed distant and selfish to others but I couldn’t be any different at that time.. My brain was in charge. I was who I was then. My life was in shambles and this was the Main Event.
I went to my parents house on New Years Day, my dad was still with us. I was living by myself and had slept at my apartment the night before. I would have been there already but my biological relatives invited me to go out for New Years Eve. I didn’t want to go but my mom told me to go. I had just found my biological Aunt and she asked me to spend New Years Eve with her and the family. I went. I had been spending a lot of time at my parents house when I wasn’t working watching my father wither away. It was the holidays and I think my mom thought I needed a break so she told me to go out and have fun so I went.
Have fun, what a strange thought.
I was so happy to find my biological relatives but it was such a bad time for it to happen. I wasn’t in a good place. For many different reasons.
I had spent Christmas Eve sitting with my dad thinking he would pass…but he didn’t. The Christmas Eve I will never forget. It was me and my mom and two of her friends there in the house that night. I was sitting with my dad in his room and we watched the Christmas Story together. That was the last thing we did before he slipped into a coma. In fact the last thing he said to me was a line out of that movie. He was repeating one of the lines out of the movie over and over. I can’t watch Christmas story anymore without reliving that night.
I would doze off and wake to his thin frail bony frame staring at me over the railing of the bed. I don’t know if he knew I was there but I think he did. As I was sitting there with him I heard something down the street like singing. I figured it was Christmas Carol Singers so I looked out the window behind my father’s death bed to find about fifty or so people walking up the street. They were holding lit candles and singing. Next thing I knew they were in the house. The minister of my fathers and mothers church came in between Christmas service with half the church behind him. They were all holding candles. It was like one of those sappy hallmark movies. They loved my dad, the minister loved my dad, the congregation loved my dad, everyone loved my dad. if dad couldn’t be at church the church would come to dad.
I left my dad’s side and went downstairs to be with my mom and all these people who so kindly came to pay their last respects. The minster and his flock. My mom let them in and as they filed into our small house singing they formed a crescent in the living room and held hands. My mom stood there with the poise and strength that her generation seems to have mastered. She was the perfect host; kept her game face on for those divine people while I melted. I couldn’t hold it together and it took every molecule of my being not cry out loud. I could feel eyes on me with their kind sympathy. My mom on the other hand was a strong upright force that was there for them as not to make them feel uncomfortable. I will never forget the look on her face when we all prayed. Her strength was at its glorious best. She was in the hands of her god.
After the prayers had been said and the songs had been sung they left, the candles burned down and there was one more Christmas Eve sermon to be given and they had to get back. I went back upstairs to sit with my dad, my daddy, my best friend. He made it to Christmas day. In fact he made it all the way to New Years Day. I spent the New years Eve with my new Aunt and her family and then went back to my apartment. I came back New Years Day morning to be with my mom and my dad, I was depleted emotionally, tired and totally spent as we all were. I went up to see him and then I went back downstairs. I remember I was watching the twilight zone so as not to think, trying to distract myself from the pain that was all around me. The craziest thing happened. My favorite twilight zone show came on the TV. The reason it is so crazy is because it’s the one with young Robert Redford when he plays the Grim Reaper. That was such a rare show that they never played. It was one of those 24 hour twilight zone marathons that they do on New Years Day . As I was watching the Charming Redford as the grim reaper conning that poor old lady, my mom came down the stairs crying and told me he was gone. I ran back up to him and watched my mom finally break down. Her life partner for fifty years or so is gone. I called the funeral home and whomever else I was supposed to call. I watched Mark, the flustered and devastated minister knock on our neighbor’s door before he realized he was at the wrong house. He was there minutes after my dad passed to help console us. After a while my sisters started to show up with their husbands.
He finally left us on New Years Day and he waited till I got there. I was so glad I was there. Mom thinks he waited to New Years day so that she would get an extra year of his work benefits. I knew he wasn’t ready to die. He was 73, he wanted to enjoy his grandchildren, he wasn’t ready. I saw the looks on his face as he was dying. He knew the cancer had spread all over his body and even though he NEVER complained in the six months he got the cancer and died from it; he couldn’t hide his disappointment from me.
Everything happened quickly, the Hearst showed up from the funeral home and took him away. My sisters were consoling my mom and I was back in my turtle shell. I was in shock I think. After a while reality sunk in and I had to go back home, My mom wanted to be alone and I had to get ready for the funeral.
I went outside to drive home and as I walked outside I realized my tires were completely deflated. Someone cut my tires on the day that my dad died. Are you kidding me? I just stood there looking at my tires in a state of shock.
Was I really going to have to get my tires fixed on the day I lost my father. I guess so. No one was offering to help so here it is. It is already starting. The one person that would have helped me with my car was gone. After staring at my car for what seemed like an hour.. I had my god damn deflated car towed down to the tire place and got my car fixed.
At that moment I never felt so alone.
I was in the waiting room waiting while they put new tires onto my car. They were not fixable.
There was a woman and child waiting with me in the waiting room and the child kept crying. I felt like I was in a nightmare. My nerves were shot, the child’s screams were killing me.
Then the guy at the desk decided to make a pass at me. WTF…like some kind of sleazy offer with a wink. I remember thinking if there is a hell I am in it right now. yes..This is definitely hell.
My tires were fixed and I went back to my apartment alone and there I sat ….still.
Thinking about my mom, my dad, what was to become of all of this.
Yes, that was the worst day of my life.
Knowing then that it was also the first day of the rest of my life, a life that would never be the same without him.
I went out to the garage to look for a tape recorder so I can tape some jazz standards I am working on and since I moved out of my last home so quickly I have no idea where anything is, everything is in storage and boxes. I hate being disorganized like that. It is very hard for me to not know where my stuff is. I feel like I am constantly looking for things; like a cd I want to listen to or a book I want to read.
It’s an annoying problem but not an important one.
Anyway I didn’t find the tape recorder but I did find a Song Journal I started years ago, probably in my late mid thirties.
It’s a book I have, a blank Journal basically and I would write my favorite Songs in there, like Lyrics and maybe some commentary about the song or a picture. I opened it up and there was a handwritten foreword there that I must of wrote a really long time ago. It made me laugh because It said exactly what I just spoke about in my last blog about my love affair with music.
This is what it said.
The Only thing sadder than a life without Love would be a life without Music. For without it I could not take another breath. Maybe for a while I would breath but soon I would fade away. Like a flower with no sun, just shrivel up and die. Like a beautiful Bossa Nova being played in a distant café, as you walk away your hearing the music slowly fading away until there is only silence.
The songs written in this book are songs, music that means something special to me. So special I had to write them down on paper. Somehow this helps me deal with the Joy I feel when I hear these songs, sometimes sadness too, But oh the pure beauty of it, it helps me deal with that.
Whether it be the lyrics or the melody or the message given or the voice, whatever it is; something has struck me, makes me shiver when I hear them. I will always have these songs, no matter what happens around me, things I cannot control. I will always have these songs burned into my memory of my being. No one can ever take that away from me—- signed me. Thank you for the Music.
The Journal is only half full today so I still have room to add to the collection. I have Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke. Etta James and you know Billie is in there. Even a Cars song is in there. I have many ideas and canidates for those blank pages. I call them Soul Burnin’ Songs.
One of the songs I wrote in the journal is a Song that I fell in love with as soon as I heard it. It is a Christian hymn called Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling. Written by Will Thompson. God it’s a beautiful song. Its a song about going home.
I think the first time I ever heard it was in the soundtrack in the Academy Award winning movie, Trip to Bountiful (1985) with Geraldine Paige and John Heard. I loved that movie: I watched it many times. It was about a old woman going back to her hometown, a place called Bountiful one more time before she dies. After I heard that song I told myself I would record it some day. It is so beautiful. When my dad passed I made sure that was one of the hymns we sang in the service. He would have liked it, he was a religious man.
I did some research on the Hymn and I was surprised there weren’t more recordings of the song. What I did find out is that it was sung at the Memorial service for American Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr.at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta Georgia. April 8, 1968.
I thought to myself, how interesting since he has always been a hero of mine and has always been such a huge presence in my life and here is this song now that ties back to his life and sadly to his death.
If you watch Trip to Bountiful you will not only see a beautiful Movie but you will hear a beautiful Song.
SOFTLY AND TENDERLY
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies,
Mercies for you and for me?
Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
Coming for you and for me.
O for the wonderful love He has promised,
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.
After my dad died I was having a really hard time dealing with it and I was told it might help to write a letter to him for some closure. This is a part of that letter:
I was soaked; I was working and there was a Monsoon in Chinatown that day. The cheap umbrellas kept turning inside out from the wind gusts. Two of my umbrellas were already broken and I kept buying more. I don’t know why because I was already soaked. Maybe in my subconscious I already knew I was losing you and you were my umbrella from the storm. You are my life protector and without you what was to become of me.
When your father dies, say the Irish
You lose your umbrella against bad weather.
People were bustling and getting ready for the holidays. There were many smells that protruded through the wind gusts and heavy rain. I remember the smells – they were so strong. There were roasted ducks and pigs in the shop windows and the smells of fresh fish everywhere. The Christmas and Neon lights were blurry from the water in my eyes. I couldn’t tell if it was raindrops or tears anymore. You were (my father) dying and there wasn’t much time. People seemed to look at me and wonder what I was doing there in China town that night. I must have looked out-of-place. It felt like a surreal dream and I might wake up at any moment. There was a Caucasian man who lingered in the shadows and looked at me with such deep eyes; he asked me if I was ok. I said yes, and we both smiled briefly. I could feel his eyes upon me as I walked away. I didn’t feel safe. I finally finished my work and I was driving home. I remember sitting in traffic on the FDR highway in my wet clothes in a strange kind of trance. Nina Simone’s Don’t let me be Misunderstood was on the radio and I kept thinking; what was I was doing in Chinatown when you were so close to death.
Startled, I got an unexpected call from a friend and It broke me out of my trance as I continued to drive home. The caller lifted my spirits.
The next day I returned to Chinatown. It was Christmas Eve and you were leaving me, the sun was bright and everything looked different.
The light of the morning decomposes everything.–Haruki Murakami
By Jloz. Love and Happiness.