Tag Archives: blues

The Loss of a King

BB RAH

The Loss of a King

I was awakened last night by the news…the distinct and jarring tones of the BBC News World Service alerts. One of only two that I allow my phone to chime.  When it goes off, I know it’s likely important.  (Except the day the royal baby was born…I silenced my phone that day)

I got the chime around 10pm PST.  It simply read “BB King, legendary blues singer, dies in his sleep at 89 confirms manager.”

I talk a lot about parenting, loss, home all that here.  It is no small thing, no subtle metaphor to say that this man was a hero of mine.  He was, without question, an icon – a uniquely American form of royalty that spread throughout the world.

I grew up with Mr. King playing in my home.  His records played all while I was growing up in Nebraska.  His 1970’s LP Completely Well was completely worn out.  When we would go to the mall and I’d walk out with a Clapton or Van Halen record my father would have a cassette with a live BB King show.  We always listened to it . . . and it first.  None of us ever complained, either.

I went to my first BB King show in high school.  My older brother had procured tickets at Red Rocks Amphitheater and it was a triple-bill: Taj Majal, Stevie Ray Vauhan, and BB King, with BB being the headliner.  Taj was good as always.  SRV was amazing, but a bit hesitant.  We found out later that he’d spent hours the night before jamming with Jeff Beck and worn off his callouses.  He’d super-glued his fingers in order to get through the night.

But BB King…the man was just brilliant.

Years later I learned to play guitar and it was important to me to learn who the influences of my influences were.  When I looked at Clapton, Beck, Green, Vaughan, Allman, they all did songs I recognized.  They all recorded BB King songs…but yet somehow, not quite BB King songs.

That tone.  That crying . . . that singing tone . . . only he could do it.  I learned from this master of the instrument and musical mediums (plural, lest you be fooled that all he could do was sing in 3 chords) that one note was all you needed if it was the RIGHT note.  You could play 1,000 notes in a single song and he would tell you more by wringing a tone from Lucille than the best of guitarists.

When I met an amazing woman who loved me and cared and treated me well I sang her a song one night on stage.

“I got a sweet little angel…I love the way she spreads her wings.”
I called my wife, Andrea, that all our married life.  Even in death, on her headstone, carved on the back, it says “fly on my sweet little angel…I love the way you spread your wings.”

In the late 1990’s I worked the phones, pushed, screamed and begged until I got the opportunity – during his tour promoting Riding With the King – to interview him.  While he was supposed to give us just 5 minutes in a dark corner, deep in the bowels of Omaha’s Orpheum Theater, the maestro of the blues ushered us onto his bus.  He gave us close to an hour there and we did almost a half-hour interview with him.  He talked about how he had an incessant appetite to learn as much as he could.  He toured with a laptop computer and a library of books he read constantly.

My father was unable to come to the show and I asked, rather sheepishly, if I could bring him my father’s worn-out copy of Completely Well and have him sign it.  He insisted I bring it backstage after the show.

I told King that my daughter asked to see him for her birthday . . . and he insisted I bring her along.

Abbi and BB

My daughter was scared to meet this man . . . this American King.  You can see it in the photo we took with him.  But after we walked into the dressing room – following a stellar show – he said “you don’t have to worry about coming in here, Princess…” and he gave her a hug.  He took her arm in his and sat down on a chair.  He asked her “do you have a brother or sister?”
My daughter nodded.  Her sister was just a baby.  “I have a little sister, Hannah,” she told him.

King tipped over a cup on the counter, filled with guitar picks and plastic pins.
“Grab something out of there for your sister Hannah,” he told her.  She obliged.
“You probably want something in there, too,” he told her.  She nodded.  “Well, I’m not going to give you any of that,” he said, a twinkle growing in the corner of his eye.

My daughter looked at him, crestfallen but quiet.

“You know why,” he asked her?  She shook her head “no.”
He pointed to his lapel, where an enamel pin of Lucille hung…gold-embossed with her name on the headstock and his on the pin.
“I’m going to give you this one,” he told her.  He unpinned it and put it on her collar.

On the way home my daughter just repeated, in hushed tones, “BB King called me Princess!”

My daughter marks the 3rd generation of my family to love this man and his music.  For an American King to call her Princess is simply beyond description.

We saw him several more times…each time floored by the energy, tone and warmth this man projected.

When I put the phone down tonight I could only think . . . a beautiful woman is silent tonight. Lucille cannot cry, she cannot wail, she cannot shout for joy.

She cannot sing.  The man who says his only love is Lucille left her behind, and she will be silent.

But for years they made music together, sang together, were sad and angry and sarcastic…and joyous.

And what an amazing body of work they left us.

A tuxedo and a shiny 335
You could see it in his face, the blues has arrived
Tonight’s everybody’s getting their angel wings
Don’t you know you’re riding with the King!

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2 Years. . . Motherless Children

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I write this in the middle of the evening just a couple hours before the 2nd anniversary of my wife’s passing.  It would also be my 20th wedding anniversary.

It’s an odd thing to have an annual event of this personal magnitude.  I often face one of two descriptions: “widower” and “motherless children,” for my kids.  Those are both apt and appropriate descriptions.  They’re just . . . not the full description.

I am a widower, true.  My children have no mother, also true.  These are part of what we are.  But it is not who we are.  We are so much more, and though we have a harder time and have to face larger burdens because of loss, grief, hardship and pain, we are still our core personalities.  I’m still a musician.  Abbi is an actress.  Hannah plays guitar and is a brilliant artist.  Noah is a storyteller.  Sam is a singer and a flirt.  None of those have changed.  But we have, and we’ve done so many things in two years.  We’ve lost, but we’ve gained so much in experience and adventure.  We don’t know the daily love from that amazing woman, Andrea, my wife, but we learned to give and embrace love when we saw it.

So this year, like last, we created a video.  But where last year’s video was a celebration of her life, this year’s is a celebration of our lives!  So today, March 26th, on the anniversary of Andrea’s death and the anniversary of the creation and ending of my marriage, I present you with our second video: Our Story Begins: Motherless Children.

SMILE Because It Happened

One of our adventures
One of our adventures

I had a discussion recently with someone about the things that happen to us.  The friend asked why I say Our Story Begins and why I seem different and whether I think constantly about being widowed.

My response was this: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

I’m a storyteller at heart.  I’ve always been one, I just never realized it early in my life.  I started on the radio.  I went into television.  I told stories, initially in front of the camera, then behind it.  Every portion of it the control, the feel, the shaping of what gets put together was thought through.  I stitched pictures to words and wove a tale every day, in two minutes or so, and put it out into the ether for the region to see, eventually making its way through the atmosphere and drifting as bits of signal waves moving past Saturn and Jupiter, likely never seen again.  I did this not knowing at the time that I was weaving a tale every day.

Our lives became a tale, too.  I wasn’t realizing it at first, but those first, brightest, strongest emotions burn themselves into the synapses of your brain and live there, forever.  The feelings pump through your heart and every cell . . . every electron that bonds your molecules holds a portion of the most powerful of things you experience.  I met an amazing woman and through a period of successive years I had one child . . . then a second came that nearly killed my wife in childbirth.  When we were told she likely wouldn’t have children again she got pregnant…with twins.  Our lives a roller coaster of emotion and feeling and stress and elation.

Then she left.

It would have been easy . . . hell, it should have been easy to say the story was over.  It was finished with a classical ending befitting of the Bard himself, a tragedy of epic proportions.

But our story wasn’t a Shakespearian tragedy.  Sure, it starts to feel that way at first.  Those burned-in moments, like the blue spot on an old tube-based video camera, burn the brightest and you forget all the other details.  You focus on the spots, not the entire picture.  You forget the arguments and the screams and the depression.  You forget the loneliness and the distance and the lack of communication.  You forget how nothing in the life that you live is perfect, it’s perfectly imperfect.  All you have is those bright, burning spots, sparking the lightning of synapse across the hemispheres of your mind and drawing you farther from the tale you should be telling, not the story you’ve already read.

Along the way, though, and for me I cannot tell you the exact moment, those bright stars in your memory start to burst like a star as it starts to fade from night toward dawn.  They never go away . . . just like the stars in the sky never leave, they just get obscured until you look up and see them again as the sun sets, giving you that smile, that warm feeling and not the ache for what was lived.

My life isn’t the end of one story, it’s the continuation of my story . . . of our story, mine and the kids.  When the bright, burning memories return to their former glory you remember the little things that both confused and angered and enamored you.  The nervous laugh, the silly moments, the hysterical moments come back into focus and you realize that you’re okay.  The days, months, for some people years after are filled with the best moments and the most regrettable moments in rushes of emotion, tears, and worry.  But they are replaced by acceptance and restoration of the life lived.

I am the man I have become due to the influence of my wife . . . and I’m also the man I am because she left.  I am neither and both on many days.  It’s a story, like a Hollywood script, with moments of intensity and moments of slow plodding.  Hyperventilation followed by breathless ecstasy.  I have recounted my story before and will likely do it again, but each time the real story comes more and more into focus.

The person I was talking with above asked if I’d embrace going back to being married and who I was if Andrea, my wife, came back tomorrow.  They seemed taken aback when I simply said “no.”

No . . . I couldn’t go back.  The kids may think it would be great, but we’ve come too far on our own, adjusted too much and changed too many things for that to be a transition we could survive.  She would be the same and all five of us would be different.  Change is hard, particularly for kids who have faced so much change in the last two years.  But still, we faced it and embraced it.  Our lives now are filled with adventure in the smallest of events.  The big things that come our way, the love we see or hope to feel we know we need to grab or it will slip through our fingers.

My four munchkins...
My four munchkins…

Life, we now know, is fleeting and the moments we live are the ones that will burn in those portions of our memories forever.  I can see that my life up to now isn’t a morality play or a tragedy, it’s been a journey . . . a great story full of thrills, emotion and impact.  I no longer grieve for what could have been, I celebrate what I have.

“How can you look at your life this way, not even two years later,” the person asked me.
I repeated the phrase: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
“That’s an amazing phrase,” the person told me, “did you write it?”

No, was my response.

“It’s Dr. Seuss,” I told them, and smiled as I walked away from the conversation.

Steppin’ Out

We’ve begun the selection and creation process for this year’s anniversary video.

Due to a lot of changes, and the fact I’m joining with my very good friend, Edgar Solis, to create a new blog: The 365 Dadsafter March 26th, my posts will most frequently move to that new blog and shy away from here.

There are reasons for this, reasons that border a lot of areas of concern for me that you may or may not understand.

First, and foremost, is the fact that there’s little or no information for single Dads out there.  What is there is usually written in such a way – much like the blogs for Moms – that assume you know a lot.  Now . . . I dove in, head first, to the life of a sole parent.  I cook, nearly every night, and it’s something fairly healthy and definitely homemade.  I make their snacks myself, with only a small stack of lowfat Pringles to give them some salt and crunch in their lunches.  Please, no complaints, it’s not even a full serving.  I learned to do laundry.  I talk with my kids.  I do whatever I can to make their journey on this new road easier than they think.

And I fail.  A lot.

So my friend, Edgar, and I both thought that others could benefit from our failures – others who don’t have the courage or know-how or too much pride to ask for the help.  I don’t criticize that, I was there.  I was failing and when I did I had to deal with the Midwestern attitude and pride and swallow it all.

I’ve made a mess in the last week of my own household, through my own actions.  They’re not the best decisions, these ones in the last week, but I had to make them.  Given the circumstances, I’d do them again.

So we’re working on doing another video, on the 26th of March.  To recap: March 26th is an eventful day for me.  On the 26th of March I married Andrea Andrews, making her my wife.  On March 26th 2011, eighteen years to the day . . . she died.  She went into the hospital on Tuesday and was gone by Saturday.  It was that fast.  We have (had) four kids – two girls and twin boys.  Two teenage girls and twin 9-year-old boys.

The last two years have been a journey, and an amazing one.  I guess many think that I’ve detailed every single thing that’s happened here and you’d be wrong.  What I detailed was snapshots of our lives.  It may be like looking at a Geographic photo from my friend, Joel Sartore.  There is a story in the snapshot, but it’s never the full story.  That we are living . . . which is why I have the site: Our Story Begins.  I won’t stop posting, but cannot, after the 26th, continue the daily posts while working with Edgar to make videos, audio recordings, and articles that truly will help people.

So why did I write this blog?  Two reasons: first, I needed the cathartic release.  I had evenings alone, and truly alone for the first time in 20 years.  I had to get through that.  My kids needed a Dad who was strong, caring, and structured, which led to me being weak, tired, and chaotic at night.  The writing kept me centered and the posts kept me grounded.

Today . . . I’m a different person.  My kids are getting older and the fact that I detail parts of our lives here, every day, gets harder and harder.  I wanted them to know my story, my love story, what their Mom was like, what we struggled with, and over two years and hundreds of posts I did that.  I have kept that.  It’s our story.  It’s also the story of how, over two years, we survived and also thrived, much to the surprise, delight, and sometimes consternation of others.

So March 26th, our second video, God willing, will post.  We’ll not dwell on what we lost, that’s not us.  I’ve told that story.  This is the story of year 2.  The song we’ve chosen may shock or possibly offend a few overly-sensitive people, but it matches how we feel, our humor, and our lives.

Though as I’ve said before, we’re stronger together than when we’re apart.

Here’s last year’s video, for a glance . . . but this year’s!  I hope to make that one even better.

You Upset Me Baby . . .

You Upset Me Baby – BB King – Live at the Regal

Well, not really upset so much as . . . I used to be upset.

There were a number of things that used to bother me the first year after losing my wife.  For new readers . . . I lost my wife, Andrea, in March of 2011.  It was unexpected, fast, and like the song says . . . like being hit by a falling tree.

I used to have the hardest time with the smallest things in that first year.  Little things . . . she stole little things away from me.  I used to have the greatest love for the guitar because of the King of the Blues, BB King.  It’s funny, too, because I called Andrea my “Sweet Little Angel” and people always assumed it was because of a song I’d written for Andrea of a similar title.

It wasn’t.

The Live at the Regal LP
The Live at the Regal LP

I called her that because of the King of the Blues.  In that same concert from the song up there Riley B. King had a song called Sweet Little Angel that simply said “I got a sweet little angel.  I love the way she spreads her wings.”  That was her.  His lyric, his line, it inspired me to write my own song for her.

But when Andrea passed away there were a lot of things I couldn’t face and, to be brutally honest, it pissed me off.  I couldn’t (and still can’t) listen to Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight because it was her favorite song of his.  I also couldn’t bring myself to listen to BB King’s Live at the Regal, which bothered me almost more . . . because it’s one of the records that got me wanting to play the guitar.

But unexpectedly, the other day I stumbled on an old interview I was lucky enough to do with BB when I worked in Omaha.

It also led me back to Live at the Regal.  To my complete surprise, I was listening to the album . . . the entire LP, including Sweet Little Angel and I realized that it wasn’t affecting me the way it used to.  Sure, there are memories with it, and many of those involve my late wife.  Many don’t.

It isn’t as hard as it was in the beginning, to see these things come to pass.  In the first year it was like small pieces of Andrea were floating away, like the drifting, wafting embers that float around you when you’re at a campfire.  Each memory that left floated away, you think, never to be seen again.  That’s a hard thing to come to terms with.  You dread sleeping because you’re alone . . . then you dread it because you don’t know what memories your mind is going to purge.  You grasp at them and chase them like Frankenstein after his imaginary butterflies.

But then that thinking changes.  Some take years to do it.  Others never find the peace of mind.  I seem to have gained a different perspective in the last year or so.  The memories aren’t gone, not forever.  They’re just tucked away somewhere.  I also realized, to my surprise, that I know my life wasn’t defined by marriage.  It was part of me, and a part I was sad to leave behind, but it doesn’t – and it didn’t – define who I am totally and completely.  I was still a musician, a writer, a journalist, and a Dad.  I lost a lot, I know that.

I also have a lot of times that hurt.  March 26th will likely never be a pleasant day.  It’s the day I married Andrea and the day I lost her.  October 30th, her birthday, that’s hard.  She took a lot of things with her I thought were mine alone when I brought them to our relationship.

But it seems, just a little, like I finally got something back.  A piece of myself and a piece of my past that gives me a whole lot of joy.

Even if it is from the King of the Blues.

Kind of Bird

In 1999 or 2000 I was working on a story – on my own time with my own gear – on the kinds of musical acts that still came to Omaha, Nebraska, even without an arena or convention center.  The city had just started an exploratory committee on the subject of replacing the city’s Civic Auditorium.

In the midst of this, the band Gov’t Mule, fresh off the release of their album Life Before Insanity sent a release saying they were playing in Omaha.  I contacted their management and managed to get the band to play an acoustic song for the piece.  I just had to pick them up and get them to a studio, which I did.

This is that performance.  Singer, songwriter and guitarist Warren Haynes said he’d had a hard time since the gig the night before and wondered if they could do something instrumental.  When they had no ideas, Allen Woody, the bassist, threw out the idea of an Allman Brothers song from Shades of Two Worlds simply called Kind of Bird.  Warren and drummer Matt Abts agreed but said they’d likely never get through it since they hadn’t done an acoustic version before.

They were wrong, though.  It came out brilliant.  The old Carson-era mic was sitting in the corner and used at Warren and Allen’s insistence (which I later regretted, it sounds pretty bad).

The song never saw the light of day due to the fact that less than a month after shooting this, Allen Woody passed away.  With him died my story as I never had access to another band like I did with Gov’t Mule.  I also moved to Texas shortly after, resigning this performance to my personal tape archive until now . . . where I present it to you!

Before You Accuse Me

When I was just in a rock & roll band in 1989 I owned a Fender Stratocaster – because it was Clapton’s guitar of choice.  But when I found out he had a signature model – one that came with a warning sticker that Fender, the guitar’s maker, was not responsible for the damage that the guitar could do to your amplifiers – I was starry-eyed!  I saw Clapton onstage with a fiery red one.  He favored a pewter/silver one.  I tried one out, turned up the bottom tone knob and the amp blew even more volume and distortion out its speakers.

I wanted one!

I spent weeks . . . months even just scrimping and saving.  Every penny from every gig that didn’t go toward guitar strings and new guitar cables went to savings for that guitar.  Finally, at the end of the year I made a trek to Kansas City – the only dealer that had Clapton Stratocasters in-stock.

I walked in and went straight to the expensive, hands-off section. While it was a year old, never bought from the dealer when I got it, I had no intention of buying the sparkly, bright-green strat. I walked in looking for a Torino red or a Pewter colored EC. Then I saw her . . . a 7-up green strat, lace sensor pickups covering the normally exposed pole pieces, and it spoke to me. I had to ask to try it out and must have looked like a non-sale because they handed it to me and walked off.  I plugged it into a Fender amplifier like my own and started to play.  It didn’t take me five minutes.

I was hooked. Just a few weeks after owning it it fell off its guitar stand on stage and the wood of the neck split, right in the middle.  Fenders are known for durability.  I was beside myself.  I called the dealer who told me “too bad.”  I called Fender customer service, angry, and was connected to a man I thought was simply a member of the company.  He asked me the dealer’s name.  Then he asked me to send him my Clapton Strat.

“That’s an expensive strat, it shouldn’t do that.”  I agreed.  I sent it off and a couple weeks later I got a call . . . it was Fender’s custom shop.  A few minutes later I was on the line with the very man who’d taken my initial phone call.  He was one of their chief luthiers.  They’d “taken care of” the dealer, which made me smile.  Then he informed me that my strat had shown a flaw in their design . . . the bodies were routed wrong and put too much tension on the neck.  They could split.  He personally crafted a new body for me, grabbed a new neck off the line and then asked me what color I wanted.

I still said green.

It’s my favorite guitar, my old standby, the wood aged, the pickups perfect, and the neck fitting my hand like a glove. A couple years later my older brother looked at it and remarked that it was like the 7-UP commercials and their campaign with the “dot” in them.

From that point my EC was affectionately dubbed “Dot.” It’s been the reference ever since. I’d never seen a video of Slowhand playing a green one . . . until now.  To this day, it’s my old standby . . . and I pair it with the amplifier my brother Adam built . . . and it’s perfect!

2012-06-22 07.57.32

Now What?

A year ago . . . almost exactly . . . I made a decision to leave town.  Not permanently, certainly, but temporarily.  My birthday is a strange event for me.  There are several events, in fact, in my family’s life that have dual celebrations, dual meanings, and a strange dichotomy to the feelings I get with them.

I share my birthday with my middle child, Hannah.  It’s interesting because the uninitiated might think I find this troublesome.  I might, you might say, wish that it was my day, not shared with someone else.  That would be far from reality, though.  I loved the fact that my daughter was born on my birthday.  For much of her early life, by the way, it was one of the few things that she would relate to me and actually break down and act like, well, like the other kids when it comes to her Dad.  It’s not that we didn’t get along or argued or didn’t like each other.  Hannah is amazing.  She’s bright, she’s artistic, she plays guitar, just an amazing kid.

When she was born, though, she was to me what Abbi was to Andrea.  She was the kid who cuddled her Mom.  She fought me, argued, cried, screamed and thought I was this horrible, angry person.  When I would sit next to Andrea and hold her hand or she’d put her head on my shoulder, Hannah would see that, walk up, and immediately insert herself between us.  Her view of the world was just a bit askew from everyone else’s.  While I think, at age 1-9, she thought I was angry about that I actually admired it.  She was more like me than she realized and I believe that’s what frustrated her so much.

But after she lost her Mom that all changed.  She’s like her brother Sam in that she wants to make sure we’re all safe and she likes to sit next to me, put her head on my shoulder, hug me, all of it.  I don’t dislike this, I love it, but I also have three others that are trying to do the exact . . . same . . . thing.

But last year was really hard.  I had lost Andrea, my home, my job . . . all of that.  I had a new home, a new job, and the kids were in Nebraska because I had no time off.  I managed to set up the house those initial days and there wasn’t much more to do so I headed out to drive the Pacific Coast Highway and end up in Los Angeles.  I needed to leave and I mean leave for a good long while.  I wasn’t able to, though, so a weekend was all I could really manage.  The drive took a long time, which I wanted, and the trip was a whirlwind.

An image from my PCH trip

Now I’m a year later.  I have vacation time, but cannot take it.  It’s ratings; my news director has left for bigger things; and programming, etc, make for a difficult situation for myself and the station if I want to take time off.  So instead, I’m home, again, on my birthday.

This isn’t a “woe is me, it’s my birthday” message.  I actually am more upset I cannot be with Hannah, my birthday buddy.    I’ve sent her gifts, talked via video phone, all of that.  But it’s nice to share it and see someone happy to be there on your birthday.

Andrea treated me really well in the early days of our relationship, on ever birthday.  She made a cake our first year together – something she said over and over was not easy or fun for her.  She bought me clothes to make me look better, threw parties, all of that.  But when we had Abbi . . . and then Hannah . . .  and she began to think I messed up her birthday too many times my birthday started to falter.  I didn’t mind, I had never, really, thought of my birthday as too amazing a day.  But where I failed but tried every year for her, by the time I’d hit 30 she’d given up trying.  Hannah’s day was bigger, harder, and more stressing.  When friends of mine decided to throw me a party for my 30th and Andrea hadn’t thought about it the day turned into one of the worst of our marriage.  It wasn’t because I started the fight, it was, I know now years later, that she hadn’t thought of it herself and she felt about an inch tall.

I was selfish that day and just added to it.  The night ended with her crying and telling me she just wanted to have the night with me . . . alone.  It was my turn to be 2 inches tall.  The only good thing to come of it was my brother, friends and I using my maddened tirade of “because it’s my fucking birthday!” as a staple for whenever we are angry about something.

From that point on I just didn’t feel like my birthday was a great day, not really one worth celebrating.  It will be 12 years since that day this year and I ache knowing how I see every second of that day seared into my brain.  I remember every vowel and consonant of our conversations and I still cringe remembering Andrea’s tirade, followed by mine, in front of my brother and two of my very good friends.  I look at it, still, as one of the lowest points of my life until last year.

But that same day one of those very people in the room slapped me back into reality.  It’s where the line came from: “she just wants you to follow her.  She left, but she wants you to go get her.”
“I get that,” was my line, “and any other day I’d understand.”
“Why don’t you get that today?”
“…because it’s my fucking birthday!”

That same friend told me that if this was a crossroads I had to make the choice now.  I had 2 kids.  I had a life.  I had to choose to change all that or dive back in, headfirst, and be her husband.  Birthday didn’t matter.  Life doesn’t look at the day.

It still took me some time, but obviously things changed.  At the end of the day, it was the same as when I asked Andrea to marry me – I couldn’t see living my life without her in it.  As bad as some days were, there were far more good ones.

So last year . . . and now this . . . I look at the fact that I now have to live without her.  Not only that, but this first shared day – my birthday – is a good thing.  The other – my anniversary – I cannot come to terms with still.  It’s a hard thing knowing your marriage began and ended on the very same day.

But it’s amazing knowing you gained an amazing part of your family on your birthday.  That’s always been the best gift of all.  So this year . . . I don’t know where I’ll be yet . . . but I can’t be here.  I have to make good memories when my kids aren’t around so that I don’t dwell on the bad ones.

The Last Thing

The Last Thing by Manoucheri from the LP The Blind Leading the Blind

I posted several months ago about the very last thing I’ve avoided since my wife passed.  It is a source of consistent consternation for my wife’s parents and I’m sure disappointing for the cemetery, but it’s the finalization of the gravestone for Andrea.

You’d think this would be easy, I guess.  I’ts just a stone, a piece of granite, after all.  The thing is . . . there’s a reason they use  the line “written in stone.”  I know, deep down, that a stone is for us, for everyone that goes to visit the site more than it is for her, she’s not really here any more after all.  I know this, but I can’t bring myself to believe it.

It’s just so . . . final.  I mean, I’ve done it.  I’ve spoken again with the monument company and looked at designs.  I’ve decided what it needs to say and I’ve looked at what I want to do.  I have done all this and now I’m still not sure what I want to do.  I was waiting for the refund check from the IRS to come in, which it did, and then I’d do the final stuff.  Now, it’s here and I am having a really hard time facing it.  There are countless options for this, in case you hadn’t realized it.  I have no idea what Andrea would have wanted, we never talked about it.  She never asked for an epitaph.  We never even talked about it.

I know that once that stone is in place there’s nothing more.  It’s over.  It’s completely finished, all the pieces of our marriage, parenting, all of it are gone.  I would love to say that I am OK with that but as I tried to look at the designs last night and even as I spoke to the rep on the phone yesterday I found myself choking up and trying so hard to avoid the rush of emotion rising from my belly up to my eyes.  It’s so hard to look at what other people have done and then realize that you’re putting a price on the final resting place.

When we looked for a place to put Andrea, something you have to decide just a day or so after you lose your loved one, it’s a crazy, emotional and blurred mess.  You should, as I did, take someone you love and trust with you.  My Dad was that person.  I don’t think my Mom would have been able to handle it and my Dad was having a hard time, I could tell.  He was the reasonable one there.  It’s so easy to go either direction – to spend the world on everything because you don’t want to skimp . . . and to spend nothing because you’re seeing the dollar signs grow.  When they said Andrea needed a different coffin due to circumstances I won’t spell out the cost went up.  When they talked about whether I’d want to eventually be buried with her the costs would go up.

You sit there, at age 40, staring at this and suddenly you have to face the rest of your life.  Are you certain you’ll never love again?  Are you certain that you’ll be in California at the end?  Are you sure that you’re supposed to spend eternity with this person?  You look at the ring on your finger and realize that the vow is now broken.  “‘Til death do us part” has actually come to pass.  You are no longer married and that starts to hit you next.  I ultimately, not knowing the future, gave Andrea her own grave, her own spot, and figured that as long as I could I’d visit.

So now I stare at designs and try to force my eyes to stop watering and read other people’s sentiments and realize that they’re too cheesy or too religious or too sad.  I asked about one that had a tall, black gravestone and realized that it might work.  When I asked, though, the cost was over three thousand dollars.  I simultaneously felt guilty and scared that I didn’t want to spend that much but then started to wonder “doesn’t she deserve this?”  It’s like her birthday all over again and while you might think I’m taking this lightly it’s weighed on me for over a year.  I’ve sat and wondered how I’m going to deal with it and how I’m going to deal with this.

Putting this stone in place shuts the last door to that world.  I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s literally sealing the vow forever.  It’s saying, for good, this is her in eternal rest.  I said yesterday it’s like the day of the funeral when I tried to leave the cemetery and my legs buckled.  I still feel that way.  There are days I get mad because I feel like she didn’t fight hard enough to stay with us.  Then there are days I wonder if I was too awful to her or not attentive enough and she didn’t feel like she could stay.  I get mad she did this to our kids and then defend her to those same children because she fought so hard for them for so many years.

I am angry that I’m limiting what I’m spending because I want to say she deserves better but cannot justify paying that much when her daughter wants to travel to New York and her sons want to have new bikes and her middle daughter wants to start guitar lessons again.  I pay the tuition and deposit for the kids’ school and realize that three thousand dollars saps our funds dry and that doesn’t include installation fees.

I’m making an appointment to finalize the color of granite and the type of stone.  My kids don’t want to be part of the decision, which I understand.  Part of me wishes he had someone to share the burden but part wants to do this one last, very personal thing for myself as much for her.

In the end I’m going to keep it very simple.  On the front:

Andrea Andrews Manoucheri
Born October 30, 1970  –  Passed March 26th 2011
Beloved wife, mother, and friend

It’s hard to walk among mortals when you’ve learned to fly with the angels.

On the back, if money and space permits:

She made me think of the rough times I’ve had
and changed them with one smile
Like the morning sun, or a blessing from above
She helped me learn to fly up with the angels
Fly on, my sweet angel
I love the way you spread your wings

That was her nickname from me, the song I wrote for her.  I signed every card that way: I love you, my sweet angel.  So when the stone comes I’ll put it in place.  I’ve come to terms with the fact that I cannot just spend everything on her any more.  I realized this evening that it’s not the size of the stone or the color of the granite, it’s the sentiment and the love that pushed my choices.

So I find it fitting that her epitaph is something that I’ve always believed.  She was here a short time, just enough to get the five of us on track and then she had to leave.  Why?

It’s hard to walk among mortals when you’ve learned to fly with the angels.

Happy New Year . . . Sort of. . .

My family, taken by Amy Renz's Hunny Bee Photography

My Sweet Angel, by Manoucheri: Andrea’s Song, rewritten

I have to admit it, there has been an overwhelming amount of support and an outpouring of thoughts for me and my four children after we approached and now passed the anniversary day. I give it only that title because, quite frankly, it’s the day I both gained and lost my wife. Not sure how often that happens, but I am fairly certain the odds are pretty astronomical. If I had bought a lottery ticket that day I might have had better odds.

Yesterday was as I’d assumed it would be: lots of anticipation and worry for a day that came and went. There were obvious signs that it was weighing on us. Hannah slapped her brother in the arm hard enough to make a mark and only said “I don’t know why” when I burst into the room in a fit of parental rage. She lost her game boy and sat in her Grandma’s office for awhile until she could stop it. This coming after she’d spent the entire day at the county museum helping one of the women there she’d befriended and become pen pals with.

Abbi, my oldest, spent the day in bursts of isolation, in her room, playing a drawing game and words with friends on her phone. Ever connected through this interweb to the people more than a thousand miles away.

Which brings me to another point. I can only imagine how hard this might have been at home. Surrounded by Andrea’s family, friends, acquaintances, all of them her friends and life. We’ve made a life in California that is ours, sure, but the move to California, to be close to family, job, all of that was so that we could make life easier for all of us to get established and make our lives together. We did that, but my anticipation, which may have been worse than reality, told me we’d get inundated with phone calls, visits, all of it yesterday. Beside that, the people who helped us get through all of our trials and tribulations were my folks, who live several states away. As it is, the day came and went, the kids seemingly OK with it all. They did not dwell on things, they had helped make the video, and in a way I think that was cathartic enough for them.

For me, I had several days with my folks and younger brother. His trio came out and I sat in, making it a quartet, and we played into the late night banging out “Dear Mister Fantasy”, “Sunshine of Your Love”, even obscure jams like “Do What You Like” as well as nearly 3/4 of our first album, “The Blind Leading the Blind”, which they play as a trio. You may work out, go for a run, beat on a punching bag, what have you. Nothing is better for me than this. I played Adam’s guitars, breaking a string on his black Clapton Strat; punching the air with the speaker cabinet ringing out his Les Paul Special; and ended the night with his ’73 Stratocaster. I was sore, my fingers hurt and I was dripping in sweat, and it was the best thing in the world.

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Social media helped to spread the word of our loss and the tribute to our beloved Andrea. Where in years past, though, we might have disappeared, it amazes me the draw that those applications, web pages and social interactions draw us. Abbi was connected and pummeled with well wishes and emails. We both looked at Facebook and Twitter and saw the thoughts and wishes of everyone. Unlike being at home, though, we could bask in the glow of the lives Andrea had touched and not wallow in the misery of losing her.

Like being at home, though, once the house went quiet, I was left to my own devices. Each tick of the clock moved to another moment 19 years ago. The morning, where the temperature was much like yesterday, unlikely warmth, and the snow melting. The morning with my wife and her bridesmaids, still in our apartment when they should be at the church, hung over from whatever debauchery they’d managed the night before. The early afternoon, with my brother, best man, leaning over right before Andrea entered the row of pews and whispering “it’s not too late if you want to make a break for it” and grinning behind his mustache. My father, as Andrea got halfway down the aisle, making me smile so much my cheeks hurt leaning in and saying “son, as of this point, you will have no opinion” and giggling.

As the house was empty and everyone in bed, I sat looking at the clock and realizing we’d have been leaving the reception and heading up to the Red Lion hotel and our room, which cost literally the last pennies I had. I sat and realized I was more like the year ago than 19. One year ago, at that very moment, I sat on the couch, alone, unable to sleep, staring at the wall and unable to fathom what comes next. I was awake for 72 straight hours. I couldn’t sleep. I watched every single episode of HBO’s “The Wire”.

I stayed up until this morning, around 2:30am, but that’s all I did. Unlike 365 days before, I knew what was coming. That’s the advantage, I suppose, of marking this day. The fact that it isn’t just a hard day to mark, the day we lost the bright star of our home. It’s also the mark of success for us, if you can believe that. We made it one year. Second by second, minute by minute, then day by day, we got here. We’re still looking at things each day as it comes, but it starts over. We made it through the boys’ birthdays first. My and Hannah’s birthday; The fourth of July, our favorite holiday; Andrea’s birthday, Halloween, Abbi’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas . . . all of it on our own, my decisions guiding us.

We made it . . . sort of. Sure, we had help, but that’s the new part of our lives. We made it because of that help – something I’d have been loathe to ask for a year ago. Now, I know what it is to do this. It won’t make this day any easier when we reach it 364 from now, it still marks the best and worst day of my life. But now I know I’ve gotten through it, I can do it again.