Monday, February 25, 2013

Channeling George Harrison


The day after the funeral Mass to celebrate Brandon’s life, June 7, 2012, I met our youngest daughter Carolyn at “my” labyrinth in Smale Park. We planned to have a “nice” lunch at one of the restaurants at the adjacent Banks area, but after we’d walked the labyrinth both of us were in the mood for comfort food. In this case, we decided “comfort” meant sharing a chocolate malt, so we headed to Johnny Rockets less than two blocks away.

As we ate, we talked about many things Brandon – his life, his illness, his death, and each of us voiced a desire for some sign to let us know he was all right in the wherever. Music of the 1950s, 60s and 70s played in the background as we talked and savored our chocolate malt. I can’t remember if we were still discussing wanting some sign or if the discussion had ended, but we had just decided we’d better get on with our day when a song by George Harrison and the Traveling Wilburys came over the loudspeaker. It began “Well it’s all right Well it's all right, riding around in the breeze; Well it's all right, if you live the life you please…” Carolyn and I kept listening to the lyrics and looking at one another, both feeling as if we’d been granted a sign. But that wasn’t the end of it. Five to 10 minutes later, the check had been paid, and Carolyn and I were saying good-by when George Harrison and the Traveling Wilburys again began, “Well it’s all right…” Carolyn and I both burst into tears and hugged. How many times have you sat in a restaurant with canned music playing in the background and a particular song plays twice in less than 10 minutes?

I started to track the song down as soon as I arrived home. Unfortunately, I first thought the title must be “It’s All Right,” but that search took me nowhere. When I added “Well” before the other words, I finally found it. Imagine how the concept of it being a sign was reinforced when I realized the actual song title is “End of the Line”! (Note the empty rocking chair in the music video, which is for Roy Orbison, who was present for the recording of the song but had died before the video was made.)

Still, Brandon (and George) hadn’t finished with me that day. A couple of good friends had suggested taking me out for dinner that same evening, and the spot decided upon is about a half-mile from our home. Rather than having them pick me up, I decided to walk and meet them there. They were delayed by rush-hour traffic, so I arrived first and requested an outdoor table overlooking the Ohio River. Because those tables were full, I was given a beeper and went out to the front entry to wait for my friends. Canned music similar to that at Johnny Rockets played in the restaurant and at the entry area. The beeper went off before my friends arrived, and I went in to hold our table. The moment I walked onto the outdoor deck the music changed from the canned version inside to the opening song of a live band on the deck, which could only be heard by those in the outdoor dining area. Their opening song? I walked out to George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.” Strangely, when the waiter and I arrived at our table, it had been given to someone else. The waiter apologized profusely, but I told him not to feel concerned. I let him know that I was supposed to come out on that deck at that moment, and it had nothing to do with a table. He may have looked at me oddly, but I didn’t care nor did I explain further.

I did wonder why Brandon picked George, my second favorite Beatle, since Paul McCartney is my definite favorite. Also, most of our family had enjoyed hearing Sir Paul in concert at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park on August 4, 2011, and Brandon and I had shared a long tearful hug as Sir Paul spoke about the importance of letting loved ones know of your feelings for them in the now and then sang “Here Today,” which he’d written in memory of John Lennon.

So there I was the next afternoon, June 8, 2012, wondering “Why George?” while taking a more in-depth look at the later life of the “quiet Beatle” and channel surfing. First my channel surfing took me to the last five minutes of an older McCartney concert. Then I found I’d been wrong in thinking that the cancer that took George Harrison had started in one of his lungs. Instead his cancer had originated in his throat. Although the initial site differed, like Brandon, George Harrison was also a victim of a head and neck cancer.

Brandon (and George) have also been busy in the last month. My son Joe(y) and his family live about 30-40 minutes from my brother Eric and sister-in-law Joni, and Joe and Eric have been good buddies long before they ended up living in close proximity. As my sister-in-law Joni was dying of ovarian cancer at the end of January, Joe traveled to my brother’s nearly every day, and every day as he headed to my brother’s house, a different, yet meaningful, George Harrison song would come on the radio channel he listens to. He heard End of the Line and Here Comes the Sun, but he also heard While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which was one of Joni’s favorites. We figure it was one more way of Brandon letting us know he was running alongside Joni as she completed the last days of her life and crossed her Finish Line.

Why do I write about this today? I meant to write about it months or weeks ago, but it didn’t happen. Then I realized February 25, 2013 was George Harrison’s 70th Birthday, and I knew the time was right. (I started writing this blog post on his birthday, although it will be posted on February 26th!)

Happy70th Birthday, George Harrison.  I’ve long admired your music as well as your spirituality. Thank you for sharing songs that Brandon could use as signs that would have significance for several members of our family. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Remember… “you are dust and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19)


For most of my life I’ve gone to church on Ash Wednesday and been marked with a cross to the words from Genesis 3:19, “Remember, ‘you are dust and unto dust you shall return.’” Those words are a meditation, and each year I’ve reflected on my mortality and that of those I love after hearing them repeated.

Ashes on forehead, February 13, 2013
Last year Brandon had a PET scan scheduled two days after Ash Wednesday 2012, February 22. The results of that scan indicated the chemo was no longer working. A few weeks and tests came between the last chemo and a trial of a new medication being tested. By early to mid-May, we knew the new medication not only wasn’t working, Brandon had new “spots” in his brain, liver and lungs. More radiation was ordered to hit the spots in his head, and there was a different trial of another new medication he could enter but not until the spots in his brain had resolved with radiation. The disease overwhelmed his body, and he died June second.

Brandon’s funeral Mass of Christian Burial took place on my birthday. I followed the hearse to the crematorium after Mass; I’d told him several weeks earlier that no matter what I would be there to the end of his disease journey. Of course, I hoped the end would be a cure. Never did it occur to me that our time with Brandon was to be so limited. Still, the trip to the crematorium seemed an important part of keeping my promise to him. (A good friend and my mother accompanied me, since I was in no condition to drive.)

I had a last chance to say good-by to a body I’d given birth to – a body I so loved – a body “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). It was quite obvious his spirit no longer inhabited that beautiful shell, but I found I was still very attached to it and it was unbearable to give that body over. Only knowing the f’ng cancer was to be burnt out of him helped me let him go.

My real birthday gift – I’d given him his first kiss 38 years earlier just after his birth and now I got to be the one to give that wonderful, expressive, mischievous face its last kiss.

This year, two days before Ash Wednesday, I was given the privilege by my daughter-in-law Mia and son Joe to be present at the birth of their son Brandon, his uncle’s namesake. All 9 pounds, 1 ounce of someone also “wonderfully and fearfully made.” His journey and first kiss started in reassuring contact with his mother’s body until he’d had his first meal (or two).
Brandon Joseph and his mama Mia within moments of birth,  February 11,  2013
My baby was returned to dust -- the f’ng, killing disease along with it – and all I have left of that special body is pewter heart containing some of his ashes. 
Pewter heart carrying "beautifully and fearfully made" dust
But  the life of a new little baby, who was no more than a microscopic speck at his uncle’s funeral, has just begun. How lucky I am to have two very special Brandons in my life.

This week my heart is so very full, yet it is breaking all at the same time. And Ash Wednesday and reflections on mortality have forever taken on new meaning.


Psalm 139: 13-14
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.