Today took me by surprise. For the past nine years I count down the days until February 2. Not because I am awaiting an adorable rodent’s prediction of the length of winter…because living in New England, we all know the weather does what it wants and in February we are almost guaranteed twelve more weeks of dreadful, dreary winter.
The evening of February 2, 2009 my world began to crumble as I received the call that my uncle had passed away, and I was the one to share the news with his mother, my gram.
I didn’t know what to say or how to phrase it, so I sat in front of my eighty-nine-year old grandmother, blinded by tears and blurted out the information. Her son lived over seven hundred miles from her for the past four decades. He visited every few years, and they talked on the phone almost as sporadically. He was her oldest (and favorite) child, and she loved him with all she had. I knew the news was going to kill her, but had no idea how quickly.
Soon after his death she began talking about hers. I shushed her as much as possible. “Gram, stop it…you are not going to die.”
“Jessie…I’m eighty-nine…I’m ready…”
I covered my ears and started to build the wall higher around my heart in preparation for what was coming. She tried to preplan her funeral, but I was not ready to help her. She wanted me to take notes to write her obituary, but I wouldn’t listen.
Denial is a beautiful thing, but only lasts so long. Regret however, can last a lifetime. Two months later my gram died of a heart attack. A broken heart. My world went black as she slipped away. Nothing made sense any more. I didn’t know who I was. Parts of me died that day too.
Without diverting too far from the point, February 2 always takes me back to that phone call, and the days that followed. Every year there are reminders of the day on the news, on social media, the radio…everywhere. My family members have a habit of dying on “holidays” -Flag Day, Groundhog Day, Thanksgiving, and Good Friday- so reminders of death-iversaries are everywhere.
As I connected the dots this morning, I could feel myself going down the familiar, well-worn path of grieving, I turned on Tom Petty to help ease the pain. And, like that, it worked. His words filled all of the empty spaces in my heart. As his voice hit my ears…tears began to well.
Today marks the fourth month since Tom’s passing.
While I am sad, I am also grateful.
I am sad that his life was cut short. I am sad that the world will think he’s “just another rock and roll star with a drug problem.” I am sad that he gave his fans his all, and because he worked so hard, and tirelessly, he was in an extreme amount of pain. I am sad that we will never be able to have new words written by his talented soul. I am sad that his family, band members, and friends lost him so young. I am sad that we all lost him so soon. I am sad that a simple mistake cost him his life. I am sad (and maybe a little angry) that opioids stole another life.
But I am grateful.
I am grateful of the gifts he left the world. I am grateful that his music heals so much for me. I am grateful that just the sound of his voice sooths my soul. I am grateful that he left behind so much talent. I am grateful that future generations will have his music. I am grateful that I was able to breathe in the same air as him at nine different concerts. I am even more grateful that I was able to catch his pick this last tour (two days before my birthday). I am grateful that Tom Petty saved my life, and gave me a sense that I belonged in this world.
His words are powerful, and reach people where they are at. In the darkness he brings light. In the light, he increases your joy. Pure. Gentle. Subtle.
Tom Petty’s music is the soundtrack to my life. I am not alone on that one. I have met countless others who feel the same way. From twelve to ninety, his music touched his fans. The lyrics snuck in through our ears and tangled around our hearts. No other music has ever done that to me, and I am doubtful it ever will.
My love for a man I never met keeps me going. It gives me hope and strength on the toughest days. It connects me with others, who love him too. We are in this together. As a fan, you are never alone. A family of strangers, who love a man and his music who has touched so many of us.
Thank you Tom for giving us all you had, and a little more. Thank you to his family and friends who shared pieces of this incredible, gentle, kind man with us.