Good morning, Facebook friends, family and loved ones...
Yesterday, just after 2 PM, my father in law passed away.
Irony not being lost, today is his birthday.
Knowing that most don't wish to read my more lengthy posts, I've elected to first express my gratitude for all that have tendered condolences and well wishes, prayers and assistance for his wife, his daughters, and all whose lives are better simply for knowing him. My thanks to those individuals knows no limit.
*(the following is quite lengthy. Dig in)*
The events of late have compelled me to share something with you...something I realized yesterday as I was having what I was so ready to classify as "a bad day".
I arrived at the church at 1:48 PM. Because I'd been running around most the morning attempting to figure out HOW I was going to move my DJ gear from place to place, I stupidly left my paperwork, my notes, and my itinerary on my printer at home. I had no address for the reception hall, and mistakenly believing it was nearer to the church where the wedding was to take place, I figured, I'd stop at the church and just ask.
Oh...and for some reason (because remember, no paper notes), I thought the wedding to be at 2:30 PM.
It was actually at 2. I wasn't even dressed, having ruined the dress clothes I'd planned to wear for the day's performance.
Flustered and panicking (as I had a friend outside with a truck's bed full of my gear), I grabbed my gig bag and proceeded to the church's AV room, dirty and sweaty from having feverishly attempted to repair my truck just hours before. My computer refused to respond to my requests for music, and as I stared out into the church, I simply wanted to scream...I'd had such a sh+t day to that point, and I felt as if it wasn't going to get much better.
My computer's failure to boot in timely fashion forced my hand and resulted in my doing something I HATE doing as a DJ...
I plugged in my phone, quickly calling up the songs for the processional, bride's entry and recessional. The pastor lined up the wedding party to begin the ceremony. And after silencing my alerts and notifications, I began the first song.
I looked out into the sea of family and friends who'd gathered to witness the joining when my watch vibrated, alerting me to a text message. A simple two words burned across it's tiny screen.
My father-in-law, Douglas had just passed away.
I could send no reply at that moment save for "I'm so sorry, baby. I love you." as I continued to locate and cue the remaining selections for the ceremony. I stood stunned as I awaited my cue to play the next one, and mentally ticked off the minutes until I could unplug and get back on the move. I still had to locate and get to the reception hall, set up the gear, and quickly prepare for the wedding parties entrance. I'd wanted so badly to be there, both for my wife and the family I've been honored to have joined nearly 2 decades ago. Regrettably, I could not.
Seeing my frustration so readily apparent upon my tear and dirt stained face, a man walked up to me and said "Breathe".
His name was Merle, and he was the bride's father. A fairly tall man, I remember seeing his beard first, then his eyes. He said "It's ok. Take your time. Take a breath. You've got time."
I nearly broke down right then and right there, as all I could think of at that moment was my wife, Tanya , our mother, Terry , my children, my cousins, and the sadness that most surely threatened to swallow them up. I'd gone to see him just the night before. I sat with him briefly. I didn't know what to say, for we hardly talked at all. I told him I loved him, and that I was honored to have been included within his family. He looked at me, and wordlessly responded with a nod, the only response he could muster so late in the fight with this ugly disease.
Merle's beard reminded me of Doug's and I think on some level not easily identified, it set me at ease for just that moment, just long enough to put on my game face and set about the task at hand. I arrived at the reception hall and began setting up my gear. Discovering that out of 6 microphones, I had 1 that worked, a shattered computer monitor and an expensive lighting fixture being broken did nothing for my already boiling anger and frustration at how the day could go so badly so rapidly. My computers simply did NOT want to cooperate, and the lack of reliable internet access only compounded matters. Merle was there, and again reminded me to take a breath and slow down.
Finally, I was able to get a computer to respond to my requests for music and the wedding party began entering, though I was unable to announce anyone in the party though my malfunctioning microphone. All I could finally get out over the speakers was "Ladies and gentleman, it is my pleasure to present to you Mr. and Mrs. Brittain."
Thunderous applause followed and once the wedding party was seated and preparing to be served dinner, I was finally able to steal away enough time to run to the bathroom and change into much cleaner apparel than I'd arrived in. I washed my face and hands, and just stared into the mirror. I cursed myself for being so ineffective and for not being a better mechanic. I thought of Doug and wondered what mechanism within him allowed him to work long hard days without complaint or expression of angst. I reflected upon that, threw away the stained paper towel and returned to my post.
From that point, things began to improve considerably. I went about hosting the reception as I'd done more of these than I could count. During the course of the evening, several guests came to me expressing condolences and well wishes, both for myself and my family. I graciously accepted the sentiments, and continued to focus on my duties as DJ and host. As the night continued, I watched the bride and groom dance together, eat their dinner while staring at one another, and surrounding them were loved ones from both newly joined families smiling, laughing and loving all within sight. At the conclusion of the night, I took the mic and congratulated the newly married couple, reminding them that "...you've undertaken a journey where the destination is not as important as the ride there." Nearly stammering, I asked the remaining loved ones in attendance to applaud the new couple and concluded the reception with "Marry You" by Bruno Mars. tall wedding dresses
The hall now nearly empty, and my friend's truck waiting to be loaded, I took a moment and went to the hall's bar where two men were discussing the joys (and pains) of family life. I ordered two shots and a glass of lemon tea. I drank one and left the other on the bar as I sat for a moment and reflected upon a short exchange I'd had with my mother-in-law just the night before. She sat in her chair, gazing upon the man she so dearly loved for years and began to cry. I knelt down and took her hand. Almost in a whisper, she said "It's not fair...God let me borrow him for a little while..."
Nearly reflexively, I answered with..."No...that's not what we signed on for. He made a commitment to love you for the rest of his life...and that's exactly what he has done. He kept his promise to you. Find solace there."
That's when it hit me...
That was the mechanism within him that allowed him to work as he'd worked, to create, nurture and protect the family he loved...the thing I tried figuring out as I berated myself in the mirror for perceived failure. It all suddenly came into focus nearly so abruptly, I nearly shook when it hit me.
That was Doug, through and through. This lesson, this self-perpetuating sense of duty and responsibility was something that wasn't only HIS defining trait, but one he imparted upon my wife, her sister and all who'd been honored with such a lesson being taught to them. Sh+t, he'd even taught me this lesson...having never said a thing to me about it. Just by association, he'd touched my life and the lives of my children who adore him as only proud grandchildren can. And recently, I'd written him a short letter thanking him for that.
I don't know if he ever read it, for Doug wasn't one for sappy sentiment and expressive exchange. A person just kind of got the sense of what he felt and what he loved through his actions and efforts.
I've served as host for many wedding receptions and have even served as officiant for a handful of these. Regardless of the changing language an officiant can use when binding two souls together, one of the constants is that all who stand before their god, a judge, or just some DJ who happens to have the right credentials is this...
"...as long as you both shall live."
Sadly, I've seen this tenant fall away for some, but so too have I seen it's strength. Ironically enough, while in attendance at yesterday's ceremony and reception, I saw not only my current client, but more good people for whom I will serve or had served as host for their receptions. I'd even caught a glimpse of my very first client, a woman named Vanessa. The family I'd served yesterday showed a gentle kindness I can only describe as "wonderful", which only made me think of Doug, Terry, Jessica, Michael, Josh, and innumerable others even more.
At night's end, exhausted, sweaty and hungry, I returned home and awaited the sun's rise, marking Doug's birthday. He'd passed just 10 hours before the calendar marked his 56th year. I thought about all the time I'd missed, yet all the gifts I'd gained from the life he'd lived, the lessons he's taught and the people he so dearly loved.
To Douglas Leisner, I say "Thank you" and "I love you", even if I'd only said it once. To say that I am blessed and honored to have your name among the countless ones that adorn my personal history is sorely understating my feelings as I write this. My son's middle name is Douglas, something I felt was fitting...a carrying forward of something great...something cherished.
To all in bereavement from what most call "loss", I offer the following, as I'd offered to the newly minted couple as last night drew to it's end...
"The destination is never as important as the ride you take to get there."
Or, to put it as I think Doug would have if so inclined...
"It's not just about getting across the finish line...but how you drive on the track before the flag begins to wave..."
Doug, you are are missed and loved.
Today, bud...beers are on me. Take the day off and relax.
It's your birthday.