And so it goes, there are times when you are chugging along in your carefree world when all of a sudden, from out of the blue, life throws a grenade on the road you’re traveling; tossing you to the shoulder like a helpless ragdoll, and debris and smoke make the path ahead impossible to follow. It’s in these moments, amongst the chaos and confusion, that you reach out hoping to find a hand to grasp – something or someone to show you the way.
The band and I cruised southbound down I-95. We had played New Hampshire the night before and were headed to our next show in Massachusetts where I was born and raised. The previous day I had gotten bad news. My mom had called to tell me that my nana’s health was declining and that she was in Hospice care. She had been in and out of the hospital for some time now due to a bad heart, and she had taken a turn for the worse. My mom suggested that instead of crashing on friends’ couches while back in town, that Ed, Moses and I (the band) stay at my nana’s apartment in a subsidized senior living center right outside Boston since it would be empty for the time being. I agreed that would be best.
Our show that night was incredible. The place was packed; a crowd consisting of family, lifelong friends and strangers alike. I saw folks I hadn’t seen in years and it warmed my heart. Hell, even some of the older guys I used to work construction with years ago in Boston came out. There’s nothing better than sharing a night of music, drinking and hanging late into the night with people you love. We drove back late, singing to songs on the radio.
After parking the van in the lot, we quietly slipped in the back door of the high-rise apartment building, hoping not to wake any of the elderly tenants as they slept. When morning came, I left the band behind and went to visit with my nana at the Hospice center. On the way, my stomach was in knots as I wondered the condition I would find her in. My mother met me at the entrance and led me to my nana’s room where my cousins, uncles and aunts were all gathered. Nana was in bad shape, and it tore me apart to see her that way. For the next few hours we all sat around our great matriarch, sharing family memories. She could hardly talk but I’d like to think that there in that room, on that day, that she was content and at peace – surrounded by her family which she loved so very much.
As I drove back to the apartment, I was overwhelmed with sadness. I knew that the end was near for my sweet Nana, and I was scared of what life would be like without her. I wondered if she was frightened to die. I wondered if she was ready to pass on. But most of all I wondered how I could possibly say goodbye to a loved one I had shared so much of my life with. I drove back as the sun was setting over the Boston skyline. I tried to hold back tears as I walked the steps to my nana’s 5th floor apartment. As I approached the door I heard an odd grunting sound. Confused I opened the door to find my bandmates, Ed and Moses, having a push-up competition there on the floor of Nana’s living room. They immediately paused when they saw me and we all fell to the ground in laughter. It was really nice to have my bandmates there with me. It felt right. We’d been touring all summer together and our bond had grown strong. If any of you are musicians in a touring band, then you know what it’s like. There’s rarely a moment in the course of a day when you aren’t with your crew. You eat together, sleep together, drive together and play together. You become a family of sorts, a tribe, a twisted caravan and the love is real.
That night, the band and I went out with a few of my closest friends who I have known most of my life. We got really drunk and it helped dampen the sadness for some time.
Early the next morning while the band slept, I opened my nana’s bedroom door, a room I had declared off limits when we arrived, and sat on her bed beside folded linens. I looked at the mementos all around. The pictures of her cherished grandkids that lined the wall, the dresser that had once sat in her bedroom, the cupboard that had housed the dishware in the kitchen of her Medford home where she had raised five children with her beloved husband, the framed American flag the government had given for my papa’s service in World War II, a black and white photograph taken on her wedding day by her bedside. Was this how life was? You accumulate all this beauty that means more than words could ever describe, only to one day be stripped of it all, never to see or experience them again? The tears flowed down my face as the ghosts of old memories haunted my mind.
I decided that I needed to stay in Boston another day. Thankfully the band agreed. That afternoon I returned to visit my nana. The halls of the hospice facility were serene and peaceful but also emitted a sense of impending doom. I sat with Nana and held her hand while she slept. We sat together alone in silence, as I searched for the words to say goodbye. That was to be the last time I would ever see her.
Amongst all the trivial components of life, I’m certain that the greatest currency we shall ever find is the love we share with family and friends. Although the deepest and most sacred places in life we must travel alone, we go there supported and upheld by the love we have been given from those closest to us. Whether it be a 10 hour drive in a van through the Midwest, a feast on Christmas Eve with relatives all around, a walk in the park on a crisp fall day or a sleepless night in June with your best friends, we must remember to be present in those special moments and cherish them for what they are, for there will be a day when you will be old and feeble and all you will have are the memories to relive.