Saturday, May 29, 2021

Missing You...on Memorial Day

“Now this is what we call a happy sad song,” the music professional [Jonathan] said in an affirmative tone as we sat in the prestigious Dark Horse Recording Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. My song, Missin’ You, had just received a thumbs up, so it seemed. I was watching his body language as studiously as he was listening to my songs. Not only was I studying the craft of songwriting…I was learning to “read” my audience. I liked what I saw.
Jonathan making notes.

Jonathan had been called in by my new producer [Eric] to listen to all of the songs I had been writing — looking for gems. They were listening to my babies and I felt vulnerable. The songs that made the cut would go on my upcoming recording project.

As a newcomer to the Nashville culture, I was both eager and nervous. I gazed out the wall-length window above the ominous soundboard. The outside lush spring-green landscape was strikingly similar to that of my home state of Pennsylvania and it comforted me. 
I had a fair number of sad songs (without the happy) in my notebook. I hadn’t realized just how many until after Jonathan’s final wrap-up sentence of the day: “you seem to write a lot of songs about death.” I had heard that same assessment from Eric the day before. Two different individuals, independent of each other, had made the same observation. It was unsettling news to me. 
I had a feeling that this pattern wasn’t necessarily a good thing. We laughed when Eric said, “We can call you The Grateful Dead.” I didn’t know who that group was. I laughed as if I did.
I squirmed in my chair, silently wondering: how on earth could it be? I made a mental note. Someday I must figure out why I write so many songs about death… But in the present moment, I needed to focus. Therapy would have to wait. They were giving me a songwriting lesson about happy sad songs.

While their explanation was supposed to be educational, I simultaneously felt like I was receiving a verbal award of accomplishment for writing this particular song. After all, it was different than my other sad songs. It was “happy.” I had managed to write sad feelings in a happy way, though I had done it unknowingly. The professionals seemed to approve. 

My mind drifted back to the day I wrote the song…

I am 36 years old, sitting in my backyard on a metal folding chair, guitar in hand, experiencing my first birthday without my father. I am missing him. 

I look at the lovely purple lilacs in front of me. I breathe in their sweet fragrance. It’s the first year the blooms have made it past a hard freeze since we planted the bush over a decade ago. It was a birthday gift from my parents. My very own perennial bouquet of lilacs for annual birthdays. 

Mysteriously, the bush is choosing to bloom the first year after my father’s death. I receive it as a gift from him. Yet, there is a surge of grief accompanying the pleasantness of the moment. I strum my guitar as a lyric comes to mind. 

“Well we’ve seen another winter come and go…” 

I look at the lilacs again. 

“All the lilacs are blooming there’s no more snow…” 

I think back through the events leading up to his death. 

Less than two years earlier I released my very first recording project, Under The Big Blue Sky. Daddy was there for the release concert, supporting me. But not too long after that celebration, he began feeling ill. Months later, we found out why. He had cancer. 

I remember standing outside his hospital room trying to gain my composure. He too had just been given the news. I didn’t want him to see me cry.

Back in front of the lilac bush, I know what I want to say next. Lyrics flow effortlessly…

”But I miss you more than ever 
and the sayin’s not true
that time will heal 
‘cause I’ve been missin’ you.”

He was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma that summer and less than a year later, he was gone. In one short year, I witnessed the birth of my professional music career and the death of my father. Summer, fall, winter…

“Springtime reminds me of you
in the winter season
I’m thinking of you”

May 2021 marks the twentieth anniversary of Daddy’s death. Our last holiday together was Memorial Day. I should have known something was wrong when he could barely lift a piece of wood from the trunk of the car and carry it over to the BBQ pit. 

The morning after our family picnic, he started coughing up blood and died three days later on May 31, 2001. We were all there beside his bed, surrounding him, serenading him with hymns, including one of his favorites…Under His Wings.

This past week, knowing the 20th anniversary of his death approaches, I’ve been digging out my old photo albums — faded pictures of his youth, pets, his violin, weddings, births, reunions — snapshots of our family. Organizing them into a visual soundtrack to go with the song…

“and if time is a healer
then it’s moving pretty slow
‘cause I’ve seen another season
and I’m missin’ you.”

Click here to see the song. Or click the image below.