My Dad was a family guy. He’d entice his grandkids to go with him on the most mundane errands just to be able to spend more time with them. He and Mom regularly ventured cross country to visit dozens of relatives. He loved being with his family yet that fateful night in a hospital room after unexpected complications, he died alone. In the hospital with strangers.
But no one was really a stranger to him. He was curious about people, few crossed his path without a shared smile and some friendly banter. I like to think that he crossed over surrounded with the love of kindred spirits.
We often think of family as a husband, wife and their dependent children. Another definition is a human family, those who come from one common source.
Universal source was a theme in a personal development course I was involved with in the 90s. Dad went with me one weekend. When the trainer asked him what he’d really like to achieve in life there was no hesitation. He quickly replied, “I’d like to be able to communicate with my son.”
That struck me. Here’s a guy who can communicate with almost anyone, yet yearns to connect more deeply with his own flesh and blood. He often said, “We’re here to help each other. Maybe I can connect with someone else in a way their own family members can’t.”
He certainly did that.
Dad may have been with me in spirit a few nights ago when I went to Office Depot. Like so many other times, I’m nonchalantly cutting flyers for my upcoming show. There’s a guy next to me with beautiful prints laid out on the counter of his custom homes. He’s a builder who just moved to my small town in Washington. We strike up a conversation that evolves into how he and his wife have done so much for his son and now his son isn’t speaking to him. I could feel his heartbreak as he spoke about not being able to see his newly born grandchild. He wondered why there was such a disconnect, what he might have done differently. He apologized for sharing such an intimate story with me, a stranger. Then I told him how my Dad had done so much too. He helped my brother get started farming and was with him every step of the way. He was constantly offering advice and pointing the way to the best deals. I wondered out loud if both my Dad and my new friend might have done too much for their sons? Was it conditional? Did they expect something from their sons in return after giving so much? Maybe sons of over-giving fathers are here to teach them about self-responsibility and unconditional love.
I don’t know. I certainly didn’t have answers for him, but it felt good to share.
He thanked me, told me he didn’t feel so alone anymore. That meant a lot to me. My mission in performing my one-woman show is to connect with others so we don’t feel alone. I gave this stranger a flyer to my next show. We both smiled, knowing we’d meet again after the show.
Even though I can’t see my Dad anymore, I feel his energy. After performing my show in a small farming community in Iowa, I was in the lobby and heard a melody. In the middle of popular songs, there it was. I cocked my head putting attention on it while people talked and laughed about the show. It was a meditation titled Graceful Crossing that I played for my Dad in 2015 the last two weeks of his life. I also played it at the funeral home when I was alone with his body. Hearing that same melody at the end of my show felt like him connecting and applauding. I felt a wave of peace come over me. Every cell of my body resonated with this miracle happening at the perfect time and place.
Times like this are a precious gift, yet there are many times I still feel alone. Wishing I could be more honest and vulnerable in my conversations with others. Wishing I’d connect more from my heart than my head. Performing my one-woman show challenges me to tell the truth. When I anticipate how family members or even strangers may react I feel myself shrink and hold back. I reflect on my favorite actors and why I’m attracted to them. I know I have to be honest and express myself fully on stage. Then it will be interesting, memorable and perhaps change lives. There’s a constant risk in offending others when I expose my truth, but closing myself off in hopes of staying ‘safe’ also shuts down possibilities of true connection with the ones who are open to it.
I’m going for it.