Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Day the Music Stopped

The plans were set. The next morning I would be headed with my closest friend to say goodbye to our friend Oren Miller forever. Mother nature had other plans and unleashed an ice storm that turned my car into a popsicle.

They said the roads were covered in ice and that travelling was not a good idea. My kids' school went into panic mode and delayed opening and the mad scramble for Jeff and me, as stay at home dads, was to do whatever it took to make sure we were there.

Through the sacrifices of our wives and generous offers from friends to care for our children we somehow found a way. Though our moms were worried, we soon discovered that the roads were clear and as we made our way to Baltimore, the sun came out lighting everything covered in ice like shining diamonds. The ice and fears melted away but our apprehension remained.

I hadn't thought about what I would say to my kids before I left. I was so focused on getting there that I didn't know what I would say to my three kids and especially my four year old about why Daddy wouldn't be home when she finished school.

I told them I was saying goodbye to a friend who had died. That he was a stay at home dad and a writer like me. I told them I wanted to be there for his family and for their two kids as well. Maybe that scared them to think it might happen to me too that dads are not invincible. As with a lot of things with kids, I felt the truth was the best way to approach talking about death. It serves children better to not be lied to when it comes to death.

We've been fortunate enough to have never had to deal with it up until this point. The kids are too young to remember the passing of my uncle and we've never lost a family pet. I simplified terms for my four year old mentioning cancer and how it makes people so sick that sometimes medicine can't make them better.

"You're going to see your friend Orange, who died?" she said. My older kids laughed and tried to correct her but it made me smile to think of him with his new nickname. I thought he would appreciate it and think it was funny.

If it weren't for the final destination on our minds, this might have been a guy's road trip, just two guys in a car on their way to see their friend. A trip with Jeff usually meant we were connected to our phones or wielding a camera. Instead, we were in suits and ties headed to a funeral home representing over 1,000 dad bloggers who wished they could be there too.

We talked about his life, how we met him, the impact he had on us and our community and the importance of the Dad Bloggers group on Facebook that he started. We laughed and bullshitted, listening to music of course, and ate some Wawa subs. It's not until we stopped to get his family a card that the weight of it all came crashing down on us.

Here were two writers, sitting in a car unable to think of any words that would make this all better.

No words could describe our heavy hearts. The sobs of his wife and daughter at the service were reminders of how precious life can be, how fragile it becomes when it is wrenched from our hands too quickly.  In that instance there is no way to not think of your own family. My tears could not be contained and I wept for my friend.

At the end of the funeral, a song that I didn't recognize played. I looked over at Jeff, the ultimate musical guide and saw him nodding his head, mouthing the words in affirmation.  It showed just how important music was to Oren; how important music and notes juxtaposed could have such meaning in our lives. Jeff said "Of course he picked that song" and as we queued up to head to the cemetery, Jeff's iPod played it for us again,  I Love You But Goodbye by Langhorne Slim.

On a bitterly cold and blustery afternoon Oren was laid to rest among the iced over drifts of snow. The sun was shining but the wind howled. It was the kind of wind that cut right through you. The kind of wind that freezes you from the inside as if my heart wasn't feeling heavy enough. My legs felt disconnected as I walked over to his final resting place to scatter the earth and say a final prayer to him. "Rest in peace, my brother." is all I could manage.

Later, at their house we gathered to pay our respects and his wife showed us around. They had recently moved into the house before he got really sick and it was all still new to them. One of the reasons they loved the house was because it was wired to play music in every room.  She talked about how the house was always filled with music and how strange it was that there wasn't any at that moment. The gathering of people that was void of music marked his absence.

I returned to my kids with a renewed sense of purpose. I didn't ever want to take my moments with them for granted even the ones that absolutely drove me up the wall. I never hid talking about his passing with them. It's amazing how the mind of children can simplify the most difficult of obstacles.

My youngest daughter still talks about Oren anytime we talk about something dying. I suppose it is because she saw the way it affected me and because she in turn experienced the loss too.  We had a plant that didn't make it over the winter and she said "Maybe it is now with your friend Orange, maybe he gets to take care of it"  That's how little minds work as if nothing is impossible.

For the longest time after I was extremely sad and my daughter could see it. She came up to me when we were playing on the floor and I had tears in my eyes. "Daddy, are you sad because you miss your friend Orange?" Yes, I said. "But Daddy, all you have to do is close your eyes and you can see him."

I still listen to that song from time to time. It will undoubtedly stay with me forever just like he intended it to. We all know that feeling when you hear a song that has somehow indelibly has been etched into your very being.

It's the way that song from college reminds you of a girlfriend, that song from your wedding, your spouse. It might be your grandfather's favorite song or a lullaby your mother once sang to you. Without it, we forget but the instant it plays we remember. I think about that silence and know that all we have to do is let those songs play. In time, when silence is more than we can bear there is comfort in knowing that wherever Oren is now there is music playing and it's perfect.


  1. Oh my...Now I am at work behind my desk crying. I am so sorry for your loss, and so happy that you are appreciating every moment that you have with your children. When you think about the fragility of life, and how precious it is, it really makes our little squabbles look ridiculous.

    Thank you so much for posting.

  2. Very beautiful, Chris. I'm so glad you (and Jeff) were there. And tell your daughter "Orange" would LOVE his new nickname. :)

  3. Thank you for this Chris. This is great and I agree with you about music. The first thing I do in the mornings before everyone wakes up is turn on the radio.