Earlier this week my friend, Cindy, came over to my house for some late night leg-waxing, wine-drinking, and Glee-watching. I’ve known Cindy for most of my life and because she was the only family friend to live near me in Seattle for many years, I consider her more family than friend. Since my father’s death, Cindy—who shared a special closeness with him—has become even more important to me. For one thing, I always hold a little closer to my heart those friendships I have with people who knew and loved my father. I treasure hearing stories of their memories of him as much as I like to remember my own. But I feel extra intent on being a good friend to Cindy because after my dad died, she called me once a week, every single week, for a whole year just to check in and make sure I was okay. She and I both knew that I was far from okay, but it sure did help me get through that time knowing that she never forgot about what I was going through or expected me to hurry up and get over it.
While Cindy and I drank wine and waited for the wax to heat up on Wednesday night, we got a little tipsy and little too inspired by all that singing on Glee. So naturally, we decided to have a sing-down. Sing-downs are something we do at camp on a rainy day when it gets too wet to hold regular activities. The game goes as follows: everyone gathers in small groups and a theme or word is assigned to the round. Each team must come up with and sing a song that applies to that theme or word and the round continues until everyone has exhausted their musical knowledge. Somehow, Cindy and I decided to do a Beatles-themed sing-down–just the two of us. My Beatles knowledge is limited, but we managed to work our way through a good portion of the Beatles’ seemingly endless repertoire of songs.
Towards the end of the game when it was my turn again, I could only think of one song that had been dominating my memory throughout the whole game: “In My Life.” And when I sang the first few lines out loud, I got unbearably sad, thinking about my father. There are certain songs that remind me of him, and certain songs that remind me of his death. The music I listened to while he was sick and dying has been forever since off-limits. And of course the songs that were played, per his request, at his memorial service—Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” Eva Cassidy’s cover of “What a Wonderful World,” and Joe Cocker’s “You are So Beautiful”—give me a special jolt of hard grieving when I hear them. But “In My Life” is different—it’s in own category because the feelings it instills in me are much more focused and intense. Why? Because grief does weird things sometimes.
A few months after my dad died, my brother, Gabe, made a video compilation for my mom—a video that showed my father in his days at camp and at home, doing what he did best: acting silly and being lovable. The video is only a few minutes long, and as it wraps up toward the end, moving to slower-paced stills and snapshot of my dad, “In My Life” begins to play. Hearing this song, and attaching it to the images at the end of that tape has stained me forever. I don’t know why my father’s funeral songs don’t get to me the same way, but it doesn’t matter. Whether it be a song, a picture, a scribble of handwriting, a piece of clothing or jewelry, all who grieve have special triggers that bring us right back to the way we felt when the rawness of grief was still so fresh. Because in a way it will always be fresh.
Even on an ordinary night, even when I’m having a good time, grief can sneak up on me in all its ninja-like grace and remind me of its powers. I think the trick is to try to be in company when those moments arise. Luckily for me, I couldn’t possibly have been in better company this time around.