I've been wanting to write about this topic for a while, but I kept putting it off. It wasn't that I didn't want to do it, but more and more I found myself easily distracted.
(Thank you social media! I'm blaming you!) ;)
I realized that the most inspiring time to reminisce would fall close to Halloween, my favorite day of the year. I've loved Halloween ever since I was a little girl, and I've dressed up every year without fail - even during the bipolar depression years.
I've also been fascinated with books about the afterlife and thanatology (the study of death, made famous by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross). My Dad, however, was the total opposite. Despite our being very close, Dad couldn't stand reading or talking about death, especially as he grew older and more infirm. (That was completely understandable!) He made it clear that he was terrified to die, and there was no way I wanted to push the issue with him.
Despite Dad's aversion to death, he did have fun at Halloween! One year he bought dry ice, set up a spooky cauldron, and with my enthusiastic help we good-naturedly scared our many trick or treaters. It was a wonderful evening that I'll never forget.
When I reached my mid-thirties, my father started having serious health problems aside from his bipolar one disorder. He and I spoke almost daily by phone since I lived several hundreds of miles away from him. Of course I wasn't always able to answer my cell phone, so Dad would leave long, often funny messages. Instinct told me not to erase them all, and I saved a few of my favorite ones. I knew someday I would be glad I saved them, and I was right.
My Dad, who I considered one of my best friends, died six years ago at an assisted living facility without any family members at his side. It is the biggest regret of my life that I was not there with him when he died.
Because of my reaction to his death, I asked to be hospitalized and I missed his memorial service. At the hospital, in utter desperation, I requested electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Ironically ECT never helped my Dad, but I credit it with saving my life.
Perhaps he watched over me during the procedures.
My mother thoughtfully videotaped Dad's beautiful memorial service, complete with a string quartet of his Los Angeles Philharmonic colleagues and numerous eloquent, often humorous speakers. Once I felt ready, I was able to watch his service. I'm still amazed by my mother's strength during that time in particular, and I'll always be grateful to her for recording his memorial.
Although it has been years since my father's death, I still hold fast to his voicemail messages and I listen to them virtually anywhere. The sounds are bittersweet. I'd rather have Dad here in person so I could hear his resonant, loving voice once again call me "Little Dyane", although I'm anything but little - I'm almost forty-five years old!
I don't listen to Dad as often as I used to, but when I do hear his messages they bring a smile to my face. I'm also lucky enough to have cassette tapes of his concerts that I can listen to on my old Suburu cassette player.
While growing up, my bedroom was next to Dad's practice room and I heard him practice for hours at a time almost every single day. That's what world-class violinists did, and the discipline was ingrained into his soul. The sound of his violin playing is almost as if he were speaking to me - it's the next best thing to his messages.
It sounds macabre to save voicemails while a loved one is still alive. But knowing that someday life will change and these messages will become precious is worth any misgivings. The few years before Dad died I was depressed for the most part. I was in constant despair and I hadn't yet come across the right medications, but at least I had the foresight to save Dad's voicemails, and I always will be proud of myself for doing that.