Bringing Back Dad

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At the memorial service for my dad, my nephew, Chris Kiehne, sang a John Denver song:

Still I love to see the sun go down

And the world go around

And I love to see the morning

As it steals across the sky

I love to remember

And I love to wonder why

“Around and Around” was the perfect choice for celebrating Dad’s great zest for the world.  Thank you, Chris.  (I get a real kick that my nephew even knows who John Denver is.  I thought only old fogies like me know John Denver.)

My father died, still exuberant at 92, while taking what was supposed to be a short nap.  My mother went to wake him and he was gone.  Still in his bed, but gone.

I had a moment when I realized that my father was really dead.  I stepped in the study and saw, on the bookshelves, his CDs.

Dad adored music.  Now he would never play his beloved CDs.   Never listen to “God of Our Fathers” or “A Mighty Fortress” on Sunday morning before church.  Never blast John Philip Sousa on the Fourth of July or Ray Conniff at Christmas.  Never slip on my favorite songs just for me  or play “Alberta Bound” to remind my daughters of the fun they had dancing to the song  when they were little.

“Take some of his CDs,” my mom said, and I did.

But I didn’t play them.  Couldn’t.  Too sad.

I had a few dreams that my father wasn’t really dead.   He called us up.  “I’m fine,” he said standing in a phone booth.  (He wasn’t much for cell phones.)  “I’ll be home soon.”

But he didn’t come home.

And for about six months I had the strange feeling that I could bring him back.  Yes, me.  (Hey, it’s not that weird.  Joan Didion recounts a similar idea in The Year of Magical Thinking.)

But Dad didn’t reappear.  And his CDs sat on my kitchen shelf.  Silent.

But then one day I put one on. And then another and another.  Gordon Lightfoot.  Phantom of the Opera.  Mama Mia. Simon and Garfunkel.  Peter, Paul and Mary.  South Pacific.  The Drifters.  Mitch Miller.  Willie Nelson.  Glen Campbell.  John Denver.

Dad in the music!  Dad in my kitchen!  Back to life.  Not in the same way, but still, back to life.

Photo Above One of the last pictures of my father, Ernie Kiehne, taken in his office in Baltimore for an article in The Baltimore Sun.

Photo Below At my daughter Katherine’s wedding, with me, June, 2007.

My nephew, Chris Kiehne, is a singer/songwriter who lives in Brooklyn.  He says:  “I write songs about dogs, wolves, Hamlet, living and dying, Baltimore County, the Loch Raven reservoir, and dark forests.  A lot of the music that my friends and I make is available for free download at our collective website, theburgundycord.tumblr.com.  You can also listen to music online at chriskiehne.bandcamp.com.”

“Around and Around”:   You can hear John Denver singing his magnificent “Around and Around” here.  Of course, even though he wrote the song, John doesn’t sing it nearly as well as my nephew did that August 2010  morning.

PS:  Dad was an Orioles fan, therefore the touches of orange in this post.  He loved classical music as well, especially Brahams and Beethoven, but mom asked that I leave the classical CDs for her.  I also left some I thought my brother, a musician too, would like.

39 responses »

  1. What a sweet remembrance and a beautiful picture of you and your dad. I enjoyed the newspaper article about him, too. (Noticed that your mom used the word “darling,” just like you do!)

  2. I was lucky to meet your dad. He was such a vital and interesting man; so alive! Wonderful that you can experience him again through his favorite music. I guess the saying that a person never dies when he is remembered by those who love him is true. Lovely tribute to him!

    • Yes, I never got that until he died–first loss of a major figure in my life–that they do live on. And each differently, I think, which is cool too.

  3. Barb.. I love it! I’ve had dreams too of having a brief visit with my dad, and his being happy, comfortable and well…than so quickly our little visit is over. I miss him… yet we “grew” into his absence more slowly than you did. What a pair they were!

    • I still remember the time your mom had a dinner party and your dad and mine played some kind of a game stacking your mother’s antique tea cups. And they broke some. My mom was mortified! She went to Hutzlers and tried to find replacements but no luck.

  4. You post made me cry (in a good way). My sainted mother-in-law said that we never truly die as long as we live in the memory of those who love us. I cherish that thought.

    • Thanks. See you soon at the gym, I hope. I’m in my “too busy to exercise” mode, which always results in holiday weight gain.

  5. Gail told me you had posted a story about your Dad. It was so sweetly done, Barb. It brought back several memories I had after Mama died. One, a couple months after she had died I was in line at the Dillards at the U-mall with her birthday gift in my hand ready to purchase. When it hit me that she was not with me anymore, I burst into tears and ran from the store. What always makes my birthday bittersweet, is our birthdays are the same week in April. It is amazing when or how the memories come back. take care.

    • Such a sweet but sad story. So you really forgot she was gone? I think that happens. I’ve heard of people who pick up the phone and dial the number, only remembering when he or she doesn’t answer that their loved one is gone.

    • Robin, I had a similar experience 2 years ago. It was about 6 weeks after my mom had died. I was shopping on black Friday, and saw a 2 for 1 sale on petite shirts. I picked up 2 thinking “oh, one for me and one for (guess who).” When it hit me all at once that no, I wouldn’t be shopping for her ever again, I was paralyzed on the spot. Another woman was standing there with her mom–they were looking for the 2nd petite shirt in the size in my hand. I handed it to her, and said “Merry Christmas,” and, like you, went straight to the car with the tears streaming.

      Robin and Barbara, take care. We’re all in this together.

  6. A very touching post Music, and the memories and emotions it evokes,can be so powerful. Beautiful photo of you with Ernie. He was a great man and lives on in you and your children.

  7. Mrs. Younger, I remember the day that you came to class, like a champ, and announced to us that your father had passed away. I remember thinking, “Wow! This woman, who’s just lost the first man she ever loved, is such a dedicated teacher that she’s still here, standing confident, for us, her students.” That was so admirable to me. I believe your father was extremely proud of you that day, and will be forever for your many accomplishments in life. And as far as dreaming and thinking about bringing him back to life, it is possible. You just have to keep his spirit alive. I, to this day, still think and dream about many of my loved ones who passed away. Especially my ‘grampa’. (No offense to any other deceased hehe.) I live every day in their memories.

    • ALEX!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was just thinking about you and Jacob the other day! Two of my favorite students. Thank you so much for your kind words. Come see me in the ASC, I am there on Tuesday and Wednesday, this semester and next. Hi to Jacob. I hope you’re still writing. You know who talented you are!

  8. I lost my dad over a year ago and I still often forget to talk about him in the past tense. I think when you lose a major influence in your life, they are such a part of you that you’re unable to conceive of a world where they don’t exist. Your brain just never really makes that connection. It’s so lovely to hear you speak of your dad so fondly, rather than sadly. When I talk about mine, I laugh and smile and feel grateful to have been his daughter.

    I also believe that when you dream of the dead, they are coming to say hello to you. I have only dreamed about my dad twice since he died. Both times I cried in my dream so much that I think he stopped coming. Oops! So maybe your dad was just giving you a call to let you know that he’s ok, and to say hi :)

    • Miranda, I’m so sorry you lost your dad (and I’m guessing that he was much younger than my dad.)

      Before I lost mine, I had heard over and over again how much the happy memories stay with you and help keep that person alive. I always thought that was something people just said to be nice. Now I understand how true it is.

      Keep dreaming–he’ll come back.

  9. Love the photo and story. Listen to the music of his and your soul. Just for a moment, time will stand still and you’ll be together again.

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts!. I’ve been surprised how much the good memories, esp. the ones that go back to early childhood, do help in the grieving process. I’m still kind of in shock sometimes that my dad died (esp. so fast) and sometimed I find myself being a little annoyed at him (which I know is beyond logic!)

      • Emotions are not logical in any way,shape, or form, nor are they meant to be. Grief is a bit like a first ride on a ferris wheel filled with menopausal women–ups and downs, loss of control, fear of the unknown, with a little nausea thrown in. At some point the ride does end, but you’re never quite the same after having experienced it. We feel, therefore we live.

  10. How lovely to get to know your dad through your memories, and his music. And your dream where he calls you from the phone booth and says he’s fine and will be home soon, made me cry. I agree with Miranda above: there’s no reason not to believe him.

    • Ann, Thank you! The dream was so real and he was so real. It wasn’t one of those twisted dreams. I haven’t had any dreams since those. My dad was such a huge talker though, that I can see him getting so entrenched in heavenly conversations that he’s just a bit busy for dream visiting these days.

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