Some of you know that my father has been suffering from Parkinson's Disease for several years now. He's been slipping away from us bit by bit--his memory, his balance, his sense of humor. Oddly, his voice is just the same as I remember from childhood. Last time I visited him I saw before me a frail old man who didn't really seem to know who I was. When he spoke, however, out came the voice of my Dad, the same one who used to give me piggy back rides and laugh at my jokes.
Dad is getting worse. His body is starting to give up on him and his doctor feels like his time has run out. This weekend I will be heading back to my hometown to say goodbye.
I couldn't help but think that death in real life is not quite like it is in the Disney movies. Never once do they mention Parkinson's; no songs were created about nursing homes or adult diapers. In "The Lion King" Mufasa dies in a dramatic scene while trying to save his son, Simba. The background music magnifies the feelings of danger, loss and guilt. Songs are sung and lessons learned and the circle of life moves us all.
I decided my father needs a soundtrack. Some musical score that I can hum along to while I say goodbye. A simple tune that reminds me of the man he once was, not the frail body that is slowly giving up. Not being musical myself, I needed to find a song or lyric already out there that somehow captures the person my father once was.
Then it hit me: Johnny Cash.
One of my earliest memories is my parents playing an LP of Johnny Cash and my father singing along in his deep voice. I used to think he'd actually recorded those songs with the man on the album. "I Walk the Line," "Ring of Fire" and "Folsom Prison Blues"-- I can hear him now. My father's life was not as bleak as those songs, but I didn't understand the lyrics back then, I just knew his voice. That was my my dad I was hearing, not some man named Johnny Cash.
So I leave you with a clip of "Ring of Fire." Whenever you hear a Johnny Cash song, please think of my dad, Bud Alvick, and know that while his circle may be near it's completion, we are still singing his song. (And thank you to the incomparable Johnny Cash, for accompanying my dad in his soundtrack.)