“Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” — Vicki Harrison
If there is one recurring theme I have heard from friends near and far about this year, it has been “Sweet Baby Jesus, can this year get any worse?” Of course, hearing those words in January and February should have been the clue to beat all clues. I remarked to a friend the other day that it was strange to realize that 2016 was both the best year of my life and the worst year.
My odd year actually began somewhere just before Thanksgiving 2015. I found myself battling an episode of the blues that wasn’t just related to Seasonal Affective Disorder. I could not shake it, and all the positive thinking in the world wasn’t working. Add in some killer migraines, and I was not my usual sparkly self. The slew of deaths of some of my favorite celebrities in early January only seemed to compound things. Luckily, with the assistance of some good friends, I was finally able to get back into the groove of my life. I really had no idea just how much I would need to be in that happier place again, and all too soon.
As most of you know, in late February, our family faced its most difficult crisis – Mom fell very ill. We believe that her congestive heart failure worsened and led to another heart attack. Unfortunately, her body was in no position to fight back. In just four days, she had a steep decline, and the doctors asked us to begin considering all the options. As the days went on, the continuing lab work results gave us no hope, and soon we had no choice. We began the difficult and heartbreaking process of letting her go. In the earliest light on March 5, just before dawn, she left our physical presence. You know that at some point in your life, you will lose your parents. However, let me be the first to say that you’re never adequately prepared, no matter what you think. Yet in the months since her passing, I have felt closer to her than ever before. I feel her when I sing, I hear her words and inflections coming through certain phrases. And I laugh, realizing Big Nance is still here after all. I’m proud to be her daughter still.
If that weren’t hardship enough, in December, I was forced to make a similar decision for my beloved Maddox. He had developed a tumor on his side which seemed to grow almost exponentially in late fall. In early December, it appeared that the tumor had ruptured and broken his skin. After consulting with our vet, we realized there was no hope of improvement -- only worsening. With the heaviest of hearts, we let him go. Fittingly, he left us on the exact 9-month anniversary of Mom’s funeral – he and my mom were buddies to the end. He was never the same after she didn’t come home. As he was leaving, I told him that if he saw “Nanny” he’d better run to her. I’m sure the two of them are together, looking over us even now.
And it is more than just our family – it literally takes both hands and a few toes to count the number of friends of mine who have lost a parent this year. I became scared to see a name in the Facebook or Twitter “Trending” sections – for fear that if I clicked it would tell me that person had died (and sometimes it was just that). It was a horrible year to lose some of my favorite artists -- and all I can think is that Jesus finally became so bored checking out the shoes of heaven’s newest occupants that he decided he needed an ongoing “Heavenstock” or “Glorypalooza” because he took some of the best!
But he didn’t get all of them! The “Best Year Ever” side of the equation was that I got to see some amazing concerts and do some fabulous traveling! It all started in January when Pearl Jam announced that Greenville (my quasi-hometown) would host a concert on their 2016 tour. Of course, I wasn’t going to miss that. My brother and I went and had a great time – especially when they played “Given to Fly.” It had extra-special meaning for me, as I’d used some of the lyrics to announce mom’s passing (And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky / a human being that was given to fly…).
That was only the beginning of the amazement. I am completely convinced that my mother (who fostered my love for music) has been my supernatural conduit to amazing shows and tickets. On the day that we were finalizing her arrangements, I bought tickets for a Chris Cornell show in June in Charleston. I got home from the mortuary to check the seating chart, and I was center stage in the fifth row. I knew then Mama was still looking out for her baby girl. It was also the anniversary of her mom’s passing that day -- so I know she and my grandmother teamed up to give me an unbelievable gift. Trust me when I tell you that if you ever have an opportunity to see him in a solo show, GO. I don’t care if you don’t know much of his music (you probably do and don’t realize it), I’ll give you pointers beforehand. But yes, you must go see him. You will be in awe.
I also got tickets in May for The Mavericks, whom I have adored for 25 years now. They were amazing; too bad the crowd was half-dead. In August I finally got to see Rick Springfield, whose posters adorned my walls as a teen. He had The Romantics and Night Ranger with him, and both groups were fantastic! In October, I saw The Avett Brothers – wonderful show, lousy row-mates (coming in, out, in, out, back in again, oh wait, back out again….). Also that month, I saw a new blues/roots rock artist named Fantastic Negrito. He is another artist you must check out. He had opened for Chris Cornell’s spring/summer tour, and then he had a small tour of his own this fall, which made a stop in Asheville. Little did I know that I would see him twice more after that, because he was selected as opening act for Temple of the Dog for their 25th anniversary tour! I ended up seeing them twice….
For my first Temple of the Dog show, I spent a weekend in New York City—it was my first trip there, and I fell immediately for the Big Apple! My dear cousin and her husband were there as well, and we had an amazing time! Even though our seats weren’t all that awesome (nosebleed level), we saw the whole band -- our seats were right over the side of the stage. We also got a bonus comedy show from the 3 clowns behind us! Before the show, we did a tour of NYC, including a stop in Little Italy for lunch, picking up stuff in Chinatown, a harbor tour to see the Statue of Liberty, and a show on Broadway! And you must go see Kinky Boots, it is phenomenal!
My second Temple show came about rather unexpectedly. In September, a friend who had tickets to the Seattle show asked me if I wanted to go with her to Seattle. Her niece (who was supposed to go) was not going to be able to make it. Plans were made for me to join her, and we met up in Seattle that weekend. What an amazing place and weekend! We did the Space Needle, the EMP/Museum of Pop Culture (which is unbelievable), Uber’d our way to other spots we wanted to see (including the apartment complex from the movie “Singles”). And of course, the concert was fabulous! The band was just as phenomenal as they had been in NYC. Apparently, we were also right in the middle of a VIP section, not that I recognized any of them. But they all had super-duper badges and access codes. SPECIAL!
Work: I cannot begin to say just how blessed I am to be part with an amazing work team. They have been there for me whenever I’ve needed them this year. I am still in Customer Service/Dispatch and this year became the Onsite Escalations Specialist (slash Team Lead). We have an awesome company and I’m excited to be part of our growth forward. Last year, I gave up working for Weight Watchers when Mom got sicker. As much as I enjoyed the people I met and what I did, I needed to be there for my family. No regrets at all.
Travel: Besides New York City and Seattle, I finally got to visit a few other new places and knocked some states off the “been there” list! First up in my travels was a weekend trip to Jacksonville for my cousin Scott’s wedding to the adorable Edith. I’m so glad that she’s part of our family, and that we didn’t scare her too badly…. Ha!! In the early fall, I made a visit to my friends Russell and Amy in Louisville, KY/southern Indiana. During part of my trip there, we met another friend Amy K. and wandered over to the boot-heel of Missouri for a cool road trip. There was no concert while I was there, but I saw the possible venues (including the very gorgeous Palace). And we got to see the graves of Col. Sanders and the still-fresh dirt at Muhammad Ali’s plot. I am sad to report that the Colonel is not interred in a bronze replica of a red-and-white-striped bucket, much to my dismay. While I’m definitely planning to return to quite a few of those places, I already have one trip planned for 2017: a trip to Columbus OH for a weekend festival/concert. Yes, I am insane, I realize that….
I am still singing both with church choir and with Premium Blend (a capella). We still practice monthly and try to do a few small gigs here and there. As jampacked as last year’s schedule was at the holidays, I’m glad this year was a little slower. And I was thrilled to be able to meet up with some college friends for a long-overdue dinner out and catch-up session. It was fabulous to see people -- some of whom I hadn’t seen in possibly 25 years (which cannot be, since we’re all still 27 and fresh out of school, right?)
I also had the delight of making some wonderful new friends who are becoming part of my framily – thanks in no small part to the power of music. Many of us share very similar musical tastes, and it is a joy to share not just the music but our sadnesses and joys with each other. We know that music uplifts and heals, comforts and strengthens.
I also cannot overstate what a blessing my family has been this year. It has been them, along with my closest friends, who propped me up, held my basket when I dropped it, and served as a lifeline for me during the dark moments. Through laughter and tears, they have kept me safe and sane. Never ever take these people for granted: both the family of your birth, and the family you have chosen through friendship. You will need them all one day, and I am honored to have amazing people in my life.
To all of you, please know that my best wishes for a beautiful, peaceful, and prosperous 2017 go out to you all. May we all be shining lights in a world where too often we see only darkness. May we always seek the higher truth and the greater good. And may every blessing descend upon you and remain with you!