On February 27, 2002, I learned that one moment – no matter how fleeting – is all it takes to completely change your life. It had already been a rather shitty week. Just two days earlier, my 1994 Pontiac Grand Am had gone its last mile – while my Mom and I were on our way to work nonetheless – and I had it towed back home. As any self-respecting high school choir director would, I made my illegal copies in the teacher’s lounge and was passing my mother’s Spanish classroom when one of her students raced out into the hall and told me there was an emergency and I needed to go to the main office right away. All I could think was that if some student hurt Mom, I was going to be on Channel 7 that evening. No… It was even worse.
My neighbor was in the office with one of my brothers. For the second time in my life, there was a house fire. For the second time in my life, one of my brothers had passed away as a result of a house fire. Both brothers were extremely special-needs. They were twins. They died 22 years apart from the same cause. In my adult life, it was the single most devastating experience I had ever been through and completely reshaped how I viewed everything. I keep things, but I don’t have the attachment to them I used to; I’ve lost everything. Things don’t matter. People mattered. My brothers mattered.
On March 8, 2017, I didn’t realize it, but everything was starting to unravel again. My father’s knee gave out and he fell to the side, breaking his hip. His condition deteriorated during his stay at a rehab facility. Over the next two months, I watched my father decline. I cannot get into details, but it was a heart-wrenching experience. Thousands of emotions were – and still are – swirling around in my head, from sadness to helplessness to anger to just complete overwhelm. I was my father’s primary caregiver for over ten years – my entire 30’s – and I felt like I failed him when he needed me the most. My family and I spent a lot of time with him, trying to make sure he understood he was loved. I thanked him for everything he did for me, even when I didn’t earn or deserve it. I apologized for everything wrong I ever did or everything right I didn’t do. Even when he couldn’t talk back, I told him how his investments in me helped pave the way for everything I was able to do now.
Calvin Joseph Powell, Jr. earned his heavenly promotion on May 4, 2017. While we may have known it was coming, that didn’t make it any easier of an experience. Here it is almost two months later and I am still fighting back tears. There is this huge gaping hole where Dad should be. I have time during my day that I didn’t have before and admittedly, that is often the time where I struggle to keep things from eating me alive. It used to be that I didn’t have time to think. Now, it seems like all I can do is think. Maybe I’ll eventually get those thoughts into more of the positive variety, but for now, they seem to swirl everywhere.
There are a lot of things I’ll have to work out in the months ahead. Mom still needs assistance. The two of us are handling Dad’s estate, which is a more complicated process than I had thought. I’ve signed on to launch a church that officially opens in September. Decisions I made years ago when I became a caregiver are due to bite me in the ass any day now. (The government doesn’t care about my sob story; they want their money.) I’ve got the challenge of figuring out an income stream that helps me dig out of the hole, lets me take care of Mom during the day, and doesn’t require me to give up music. (Thinking I should revisit my business ideas. Wish me luck.) Perhaps the most difficult part is making my own physical health a priority. I’ve tried before – several times – but always sidelined when “real life” got too crazy. That’s not sustainable. There is no telling how long “real life” is going to last. Tomorrow is not promised.
Thank God that I have a family – both blood and otherwise – to support me during this time. My mother and siblings – even while navigating their own grief – have been a constant spring of inspiration and strength. My extended family is scattered all over the country and have still checked in on us. Three churches and countless friends came together to help us send off Dad in style. My friends alone… They’ve been better friends to me than I have been to them. No, I don’t deserve any of you, but my life is better because you are in it. Thank you.
As my mother often says, “We will survive.” I often answer. “Yes… because we don’t have a choice.”
The video above is my playing Margaret Bonds’ Troubled Water. Out of everything I learned on the piano over the last 35 years, this was by far Dad’s favorite piece. He asked me to play it at my brother’s funeral in 2002 so I thought it fitting I would play it at his memorial service.
See you later, Dad. I love you.