Saturday, 23 April 2011

My Father's Death, March Winds and April Showers

Sometimes the words and atmosphere of a song come from places in you that you're not necessarily fully conscious of at the time of writing.  Later, associated with real events, they may take on new and/or fuller meanings.  'March Winds' was like that for me.  It's a simple song, certainly not groundbreaking lyrically, but the words felt right when I laid them out and why fight it if its working?

My Father passed away on the 28th of March at the age of 84.  Having done battle with numerous health problems for quite a few years, he surrendered finally to wait out that inevitable eventual call of whatever-waits-next, spending his last weeks laid up in a hospice. At his request, the members of our family kept a vigil for those few weeks, taking turns to make sure at least one of us was with him at all times. I volunteered for the late shift, starting about 3a.m. (as I'd just travelled over to the U.S. from Britain my body clock made that about 10 a.m. anyway, so it made sense). 

Dad's sleeping patterns were increasingly erratic. He slept a lot, sometimes disturbed by progressively intense states of delirium, or extended periods of not moving a muscle or taking a breath for so excruciatingly long that I'd become convinced he must have finally shuffled off the old mortal coil. But then he'd suddenly breathe again.  Or he'd surprise us when he'd come to, wake up fully and be quite coherent and aware. At these times we'd wax nostalgic about old times, or what he regarded as unfinished business, or deliver some advice ("Thomas you should get a hair cut") or talk about the Grand Scheme of Things: "You know that little house you grew up in, that's just a tiny thing in the Grand Scheme of Things."

One morning about 4 a.m. when he was awake I asked him if he'd like me to play him a few songs, and he said yes. So I broke out the guitar and did so.  Playing for one or two people has always been a challenging thing for me to do and I had to work myself up to it, it gives me more stage-fright than playing for two dozen or a hundred. Playing for your parents is the hardest, because there's a built in need and desire for their approval.

My Dad used to simply not get, and even objected to, what I was trying to do with music. But in recent years, especially after showing him my mechanical drum machines and such, he first hesitantly accepted and then gradually warmed up to it and finally, I think, really appreciated what I have managed to achieve with it.
Performing music is also often something of a balancing act between an emotional release and a coordinated control of fingers and vocal chords, all of which were more than a little wobbly in my current state. 

But I stepped up to the plate and played the best versions I could muster under the current conditions of a couple of songs he knew and liked ('King of the Road', 'In Dreams') and then I played him 'March Winds'.  As I sang the lyrics 'The clouds keep on rolling, the river keeps on flowing, can't say where they're going, but I'm going too..." it all felt weirdly pertinent, and by the time I reached "I feel so certain it's all gonna turn out alright in the end" I just fell apart, just lost it. Had to stop. "Sorry Dad" I said.
 "That's alright Son".
He added: "You wrote that? That's pretty good."

That was the last song I played for my father while he was alive.  I played it again at his funeral. Though I did not write it for or about him, it will now always have a relationship with him in my mind.  I thought initially that perhaps when I got on to writing April's song, it would be about my Father in some way. I even wrote a few lyrics, but realized that March Winds is that song, even though I didn't set out writing it for or about him.

In his final days he struggled through some terrifying visions and spiritual challenges before his mind and body finally broke down completely.  It was harrowing.
Back in England I almost dreaded getting in to writing April's song for fear that it would be doomed to being something awful born from the state of grief, jetlag and emotional weariness I was in. 

Instead, working on it was more like medicine. It's not necessarily a happy song, but from where I was at, to work on it lifted me. Lifted me to some middle ground.

 To look around from the vantage point of the dark places I'd been recently,  hanging around death's door with my Dad,  to arrive back in England and see the long warmer days and everything flowering and this Royal Wedding approaching, I just felt like "No, you can't just go straight from that challenging dark world into a pastel Hallmark card can you?  Please April, have a little sympathy and rain a little?"   Or something like that.  So on a certain level maybe April Showers portrays something of this transition between death/loss and embracing life while you still have the gift of it. It wasn't a difficult song to write.  Once I had the basic feel of it taking form, I just kept letting it grow, and then stopped when it was time to get on the promo wagon. 

Ironically it hasn't rained much at all so far in April here in London.  Maybe in a way I guess that makes the song more pertinent.


  1. That's really beautiful, thanks for sharing it. I work full time with mostly hospice patients - and I've experienced that same irony...leaving someone's deathbed and going outside and seeing that the world is still behaving normally can be sort of shocking. It seem like when someone dies everything should stop for a minute or at least slow down, or as you least the weather should not be so incredible. Take good care! Ellen

  2. What a lovely, lovely piece of writing (it made me cry). I hope you are not alone over here, so far from your family. I'm sure your dad couldn't not be happy and proud of your musical career if he saw how much people love listening to your music and watching you and your creations play live. Your songs are in my head and on my mp3 player and I often sing along while I wander in the forest (as long as no-one is in earshot!). It must the the same for lots of other people, in lots of other places, doing lots of different things. That's a lovely thing and you are lucky to have created that.

  3. What a lovely piece of writing Thomas. I'm sorry for your loss. You've described in exceptional detail how hard it was to perform to your Dad, which seems so strange considering what a fantastic natural you are on stage. It must have seemed weird to feel so awkward when you're used to decent crowds of respectful fans.

    I lost my father in 2009, although to suicide, so I never saw a decline or had a bedside vigil as you did. One of your gigs in Oxford was one of the first music gigs since, and it was lovely to feel free and relaxed again and enjoy things.

    I thank you for that, and I hope you're able to recover from your loss. See you soon, I hope :-)

  4. My deepest condolences on your loss. How wonderful though that you got to play your music for him one last time. Music is a language all of its own, it can often say more than words ever could. Today's the 3 month mark of when my bf killed himself, and music was his 1st language; music will now be the most important tribute to him. I'm glad you're still music-ing and carrying on after this, it's a perfect way to channel emotion, thought and energy that are now leaning towards dark things. I wish you much strength, and again, infinite hugs. Never stop doing what you do, and never stop being who you are.

  5. Thanks so much everyone, I really appreciate your heartfelt responses to this. Strangely ironic that I'd just posted this blog ending with the line about the irony of there being no rain in April and looking for the comfort in it when suddenly, at least here in London, there were massive thunderstorms!