I recently took a class at the Life With Cancer Center that addressed preparing for the end of your life. It was a tough series of classes. Especially the one where we talked about what really happens when you die; it’s not pretty or peaceful. It’s ugly and painful. I walked out of that class too rattled to sit through the realities.
There was also a class on planning your end of life ceremony. That’s a reality that’s hard to face too. You want to be remembered and loved, but it’s up to you to shape the outcome. From flowers to prayer cards, to what you hope people will say about you in the end.
One part of the ceremony is music, what would you want to hear played at your service? When Nick and I got married, we painstakingly selected our music, right down to the cellist playing before the big march down the aisle. Alas, neither of us got to hear what we’d paid for since we were ensconced in the back of the church waiting for the ok go.
Music was a big part of our relationship. I am thankful for all the new and sometimes strange music Nick exposed me to. We saw many amazing concerts, ranging from the Judds to the Sex Pistols. I fondly remember the evenings we’d turn on a jazz album and sip scotch by the fire. Even our parakeet was named Miles for the great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. That bird loved to sing along with jazz music, belting out each birdie note with pure joy.
We marked our relationship with special songs which held meaning to only us. Nick made amazing mix tapes; I miss them even to this day. Our first special song was “Feeling Stronger Every Day” by Chicago. Later at our wedding we danced to “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney. For the longest time after our divorce I cried every time it came on the radio.
Our post-relationship song is probably “Oh Yeah” by Roxy Music. And every time I hear Adele’s “Someone Like You,” I crumble. I can’t hear Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” without thinking of Nick; he greatly identified with that song, channeling Donald Fagan’s cynicism and wit. Tori Amos’s album Little Earthquakes came out at a pivotal time in our relationship and many of the songs spoke volumes about what we were going through. I memorized every word in “Silent All These Years.”
Music reminds you of time and places. Boston’s first album will remind of days spent with Nick on Cape Cod. We’d always laugh about that line about “dancing in the streets of Hyannis” because we knew no one ever did. The song “More than a Feeling” holds a special place for me. It’s my phone ringtone. But it’s also the song we played at top volume in our car as we sped along the winding, dark roads back in my hometown as we came from the hospital the night my Dad died. I sang it at the top of my voice with my head out the window, hair flying and tears streaming down my face.
Forever etched in my head is the song “What Sarah Said” by Death Cab for Cutie. It came out when Nick’s mom died and the line “love is watching someone die” eerily touched me. It’s true, you want someone you love by your side when you die; they’re the last bit of peace and comfort you’ll have in the end.
What would I want played at my service? Jokingly I could play “Never Say Die” by Black Sabbath; but it might not set the right tone. Do I want Nick Drake’s sadly beautiful “Cello Song?” Maybe Depeche Mode’s “Blasphemous Rumours” because I really do think God has a sick sense of humor; especially since I’ve been blessed with cancer. Or perhaps Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic.” Because it is, I really do think.
I don’t know if there’s a song that identifies me. Perhaps Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” because I am. Or maybe “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure. I am strange as angels, lost and lonely. I’m also that guy “standing on an island in the middle of the road. Traffic either side of me, which way will I go?” in the Kinks song “State of Confusion.” Yup, this whole journey is confusing and tumultuous. But at the end of the song the Kinks sing, “Should be happy, should be glad, I’m alive and it can’t be bad.” They’re right. I am and it’s not.
Some people urge you to have a “Cancer Theme Song.” One that will get you through your worst of days; empower you to keep going. Hmmm, that makes me think I’d want to hear P!nk’s “18 Wheeler,” or maybe Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” I can also relate to “Don’t Stop Now” by Guided by Voices. Or I could go the opposite way and use the Johnny Cash version of “Hurt.” His raw, emotional rendition makes me think of the pain I experience. The video from that song makes me cry. He died soon after it came out.
Music sets a mood, a feeling, a memory. I remember the morning of 9-11, it really was a beautiful day, and that song was playing in the car as we drove over the Key Bridge in D.C. to go to work. Little did we know our lives would be forever changed that day; the sky turning from vivid blue to a horrifying pall of smoke. Listening to Roxy Music’s album Avalon evokes pure romance. “Take it Down” by John Hiatt reminds me of love lost.
At my service I would want people to know my love of music, to laugh at the picture of me playing clarinet in marching band; or reminisce about my days spent in chorale at college. I would want them to know that music was a soundtrack for my life and my memories. I think I would close with Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony,” because my life will never really be finished; cancer will have robbed me of that opportunity.
The Beatles said it best, “in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take.” I will make sure that mine is.