*Fair warning, this is going to be a long post and I might get a little preachy. Sorry!*
As October starts I am slowly inching up to what I’ve been referring to as the last good day. I’m sure a lot of people who go through this kind of thing have something like this in their lives. I don’t know if they’ve been dreading it but I’m sure remembering the last good day can be rough no matter who you are.
When I refer to the last good day I’m referring to the last memory or the last event that you spent with someone before everything went to shit. It’s the last decent vacation, party, night out, whatever you had with that person before everything changed. It’s the last thing you did with them before everything revolved around cancer or illness or whatever afflicted your family. At the time it wasn’t that big of a deal but in retrospect it was everything. It honest to God was the last truly good time you all had.
For my family it was my cousin Jeremy’s wedding in Virginia. I hadn’t thought about this much lately because I’ve been so focused on the holidays coming up. The other day Jeremy and his wife Ania sent me a package. It was pretty large envelope so I was confused as to what it might be. It was a picture of me, my dad and my cousin Abby from their wedding. They had printed it for me to have. I was moved to tears not only by their sweetness but also because I was immediately transported back to that moment. We had just taken a family picture with the bride and groom and my dad (already pretty toasted at this point) grabbed the photographer and asked him to take a picture of him and “his girls.” I went through a flurry of emotions looking on it and eventually ended up on sad. I was wrong to end up there.
The fact that this trip is my last good memory is actually pretty funny. My dad’s favorite holiday is Halloween. Two years ago (2014) his Halloween was ruined because it snowed in Chicago. I’m not talking a light dusting either… it was heavy wet snow and the temp in Chicago was in the low 20s. It was absolutely miserable out so only about 20 trick-or-treaters came to the house. My poor father just pouted while looking out the front window. Think I’m kidding? I’m not.
Anyways, we did our best to console him that year and tell him there was always next year! That was until we got the invitation to Jeremy’s wedding which was on… you guessed it… Halloween of 2015. On top of that, the wedding wasn’t in Chicago, it was in Virginia. Naturally he had a meltdown. No candy, no kids, no monster movies, no nothin’. He was just so bummed about missing his holiday that he went into the trip with a bit of a closed mind. How could anything be as good as Halloween?
Zack and I got out to the east coast before my parents. We spent a couple days in DC and then made the drive to Virginia to meet my parents and the rest of my family. On Friday, the day before the wedding, I could tell my dad was still salty about not being home but we got a few drinks in him and he seemed to perk up. The wedding day came and once we got to the venue I think he was hooked. It was a beautiful fall day and all the leaves were changed (which he loves) and we got to sit outside and admire them. It was a perfect day.
Now the reception. This is where my last good day really began. We walked into this beautiful venue where the beer was flowing and a blue grass band was playing. My dad was all about that kind of stuff. He was toe tappin’ and singing along (even though he knew exactly zero words) and loving everything this wedding had to offer. As the night progressed my entire family got more and more intoxicated. I mean, my mom’s side can surely party but I don’t think any of us expected to get this blind drunk. How drunk? Oh I don’t know… just “rip flowers out of the center pieces and use a knife to poke a hole through your jacket so you could wear said flowers” drunk. And that was only during dinner.
The rest of the night was spent dancing and laughing. We a decent amount of time next to the bar making friends with the bartenders. We became such good friends that at one point when my dad asked for 3 maraschino cherries (so we could try tying them with our tongues of course) and the bartender gave us an entire jar of them. When the night closed Zack and my dad stuffed un-open beers (again, courtesy of the bartenders) into their jacket pockets because the trolley didn’t allow alcohol. We boarded the trolley and at this time my dad decided it would be fun to get all the people riding it to do a singalong. My mother did not think this would be a good idea.
For some reason Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” was the first song to come to my dad’s mind. Who knows why… it was kind of a random choice, but that’s what he was going with. Originally he was the only one singing and I think in an effort to help him out Zack joined in. Met with a STRONG glare from my mom and a “ZACHARY DON’T ENCOURAGE HIM” he quickly dropped out. Just when we thought my dad was going to give up on his effort, one lone woman in the back joined in.
Now the entire Trolley is singing. Every single one of us is singing “The Boxer”in the dark like a bunch of idiots. Even my mom eventually caved. How could she not though when my dad was providing such realistic drum noises to accompany our voices?
When we got back my dad blew off the after party in order to go get Steak and Shake. Zack and my dad got their after dinner snack and proceeded to eat it in Zack and I’s king size bed. Actually, just thinking about that is pretty funny considering Zack was so nervous about what my dad was going to think of us sharing a bed. I guess the alcohol and the Steak and Shake helped ease that situation. My mom and I called it a night shortly after and everyone went to bed ending our last good day.
The rest of the trip was great. The day after the wedding my parents and Zack and I took a trip to Monticello before we left on Monday. Don’t get me wrong, of course my dad and I had great moments after the wedding too. But that day was truly the last great day as it was untouched by any other drama. Zack and I got home from Virginia on Monday night and on Wednesday night I got a call from a cousin on my dad’s side that my Uncle Bob had passed away after a year’s worth of medical issues. So, right after they got home on Friday we began to deal with the arrangements for that. In December my dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer.
See what I mean? It really was the last good day. Now back to that picture from the beginning. I got so sad about it. I just kept thinking “Ugh, that was our last good day. The last decent day where we didn’t have to worry about anything. Ugh, he was probably already sick when we went. You can’t even tell he was sick but now I know he was. He was already dying and I didn’t even know it.” In that moment the last good day left such a bad taste in my mouth. And then, suddenly, I remembered everything I just talked about above. I remembered the band and the centerpieces and the cherries and the trolley and the Steak and Shake. I remembered it all and I smiled.
It can be easy to hate the last good day. It reminds you of how everything was and punches you right in the face with how everything is now. But what would happen if you didn’t have that day? What memory would stand out to you when you tried to think of the person you miss most? I honestly can’t think of anything that stands out more to me than those memories from that trip. With my last good day coming up I’m going to face it head on. I’m going to treasure it and laugh about it and smile all day long because that’s how I want to remember my dad. I don’t want to remember how just a few days later we were at his brother’s wake or that we spent Christmas worrying about his diagnosis or how only 5 months later he was gone. I’m going to remember him singing Simon and Garfunkel on a trolley full of strangers because that’s who he was.
Embrace the last good day… it was given to you for a reason.