I have been haunted as of late by Leonard Cohen's last album before he passed away. Cohen had a special following of fans, some of them didn't even know they were fans. Cohen's songs were covered by many other artists who got a lot of airplay for their interpretation of his songs. The most recent group to hit it big thanks to Leonard Cohen was a group called Pentatonix, who recorded Cohen's "Hallelujah" on their Christmas album last year even though the song has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. It is kind of like a group of Christian teens who decided to sing George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" in a Youth for Christ meeting when I was young teenager. They decided not to do it once they realized that Harrison's "Sweet Lord" was the Hare Krishna, a far cry from their Lord that they thought they were going to praise that night. See, this is why I always say "LISTEN TO THE LYRICS PEOPLE!". There are a lot of songs out there that actually have some philosophical meaning if you stop to actually listen to what the writer is trying to say.
Leonard Cohen's songs were like that. His writing was usually dark and foreboding. He seemed to always slip in some religious themes in his songs and most of the time his songs wrapped around broken or lost love, lost loved ones and the poor future of our civilization that was to come. At the same time he was penning these dark lyrics, he was putting them to beautiful melodies.
As Cohen aged into his eighties, he set out to write a set of songs that expressed what he was feeling as he became closer to facing his own death. The album was titled "You Want It Darker" which was also the title of the first track on the album. His health was failing as he finished writing the songs and he recorded it a few months before he died leave this earth. He had to sit in a chair in his apartment, which was transformed into a small sound studio, to record his final verses. In an interview about the yet to be released album Cohen said "I am ready to die. I am not afraid". Cohen held a strong faith in his Jewish heritage and leaned on that faith as death neared.
I have been a Leonard Cohen fan for many years. His dark sense of humor seemed to match mine and his pessimistic outlook in the human race seemed to mirror mine as well. His music made an impact on me that for the most part I kept to myself. Me and Leonard. His was the one music I really didn't share with others. If I could write music, I would want it to be like his. I kept his music so much to myself, that I am not sure even my wife knew who Leonard Cohen was when I informed her in my sadness that he had died. I spent a couple of evenings with her playing some of Cohen's tunes on YOUTUBE for her. A few of the songs she recognized from the covers that had been recorded. It didn't take long for her to come to appreciate the talent that this man had.
"You Want It Darker" is by far his masterpiece. The songs are honest, spiritual and looks into the dark of night with more clarity than any songwriter I have heard. This album has a hold on me and I listen to it often. The words speak to me and I feel like I understand them and therefore understand Cohen. This album was Leonard Cohen telling the world "goodbye". I am so glad he took the time to tell us that.
As I listen to these songs my mind wanders back to those who I have loved and have gone before me. As I age I find this album bring to mind thoughts of not only my own demise, but how many more loved ones am I going to lose before I am gone myself and don't have to face that prospect anymore.
I go back to when my great grandmother Hill died. I loved her, I really did. She was a tough lady that had a rough life but she fought her way through all of the setbacks and lived a long good life. However, and looking back I am not really proud of this, but the main thing I remember about my great grandmother's death is that her funeral was to be in Springfield, Missouri on a day when I had a date with Patty Mason to go to my first school dance, and I had to cancel out. I look back and I miss her now. I have a few of her things that I remember from my childhood and find good memories floating through my brain of spending time with her. I never got to tell her goodbye though and at the time it didn't bother me that I didn't have that chance. Actually it still does not bother me much to this day.
The last time I saw my grandfather Hill, I knew inside of myself that it would be the last time I saw him. He was heading down to Alabama to spend time with my Aunt Sue and I knew that he would not be coming back. That night as I left, I did tell him goodbye. I gave him a small hug which is not normal for me and maybe he was thinking what that was all about. He did pass away on that visit to Alabama and even though I was extremely broken by his death, I was able to hold on to the fact that I was able to tell him goodbye.
I love all my Aunts and Uncles from both the fraternal and the maternal side of my family. I am greatly blessed to have them as part of my life. My Uncle Melvin was attacked with cancer. He spent a lot of time in the hospital and I kept up on his condition through reports from my mother. Uncle Melvin was special, as all my Uncles were. As I sensed his health worsening I decided to make a visit to him. After some of the things he did for me, covertly I might add, I felt like I wanted to see him at least one more time. As I entered the hospital room he was in, my cousins all greeted me very warmly and led me to where my Uncle lay. He patted his bedside indicating for me to sit and so I did. He took my hand and told me things were going to be okay. We talked a bit about things and then I told him I was going to miss him. He looked me square in the eye, as Hills are taught to do, and told me he would miss me too. I told him I loved him and as I leaned over to give him a hug he quietly said that he loved me as well. It was not long after that when he left this world that he loved so much. I am so glad I decided to make that visit. Those words from my Uncle helped me to help my grandpa the day of the funeral.
My Uncle Duane was another very special uncle. Although he had moved away to Nebraska then Colorado and I didn't get to see him much, I have many fond memories of him. He was one of the most gentle men I ever knew and he had a knack for talking to me and showing me things. This is one that really hurts that I didn't get to say goodbye to. I knew he was sick, very sick. Life kept me from making a trip to Colorado to see him though. That was the excuse I used anyway. I was and still am not sure if I could have handled it seeing him before he passed. I loved him so very much. When he did die, I beat myself up for not taking time to drive out to Colorado to see him and my aunt and two cousins. I am still beating myself up for that slip. Then when I think about it, it would have been extremely rough on me and chances are he wouldn't know who I was anyway, which would make it hurt even more. Maybe it is best for both of us that I didn't make that trip. I just am not sure.
My Uncle Dan and Aunt June were also very special. June was married to Dan's brother, my Uncle Jack. When Dan got cancer, we made a bond that we would fight this thing together and we did. I saw him everyday and my wife would spend the night at his house to take care of him. During this time, my Aunt June was also very ill and it was obvious that she was getting worse. In spite of that, she traveled with my Uncle Jack from St Louis to Kansas City every other weekend to help take care of Dan. Every weekend when they headed back to St. Louis, I would give her a hug and tell her goodbye as I did with my Uncle Jack. But my goodbyes to my Aunt June held a lot more meaning. I wanted to be sure that she knew I appreciated and loved her and considered myself lucky to have her for an Aunt. Dan's cancer eventually took him to the point of where I had to take him to the hospice house. The pain he was in was at a point of being more than I could help him with. I stayed in hospice with him for a week, never leaving him as I had promised. Each time I left the room though, I would tell him goodbye and let him know I would be right back. I was able to whisper an almost silent goodbye the night he died. At his funeral, as I was leaving his house I made a special effort to be sure and tell my Aunt June goodbye. There would be no more bi-weekly weekend visits from her now. I am so glad I did tell her that.
Then there was my sister Carol. Carol had come up to help me take care of mom and dad during the summer when she was diagnosed with cancer. She was determined to fight it as hard as she could, if anything just so she could get back to Georgia where her home was and her grandkids. The two of us, along with my faux sister Karen, decided that we would get her well enough to get back home. We succeeded. As she and my sister Elaine left to head back south, I was able to give Carol a huge hug a big I love you and a kiss on her forehead. We each said we would see each other the next summer when she came back. She never came back to Kansas City though. The next spring the cancer returned and raced through Carol's body. The goodbye I had with Carol was one I would not trade for the world.
Then there is the loved one passing that comes out of the blue, totally out of nowhere. This happened to me last February when one of my friends died. Dennis was healthy. He took care of himself. He ate right. He was active. He also had a damaged heart from a heart attack several years ago. That heart quit working that day in February. I had not told him good bye. I didn't have the chance to. We had planned on meeting up in Mississippi later on this spring when I was planning to visit Alabama. I had talked to him the day after his birthday in January. No goodbye. We never said goodbye to each other. It was always "Take it easy, see ya later". With Den though, there wasn't a later. He was here one day and the next day, just gone.
I didn't go through all of the goodbyes I said or didn't say. I use these few as examples of how my mind works when dealing with these situations.
So now for today. I am 60 now and in what I have come to realize is the "window of death". It seems like once a person gets pass 60 years old, all bets are off. My parents moved to Alabama last fall so that my sister could take care of them while I try to take care of my wife. My brother is in South Dakota, my sister, as mentioned, is in Alabama as well as my Aunt Sue. My aunt Eva is the closest on the Hill side living in Clinton, Missouri while my Uncle Jack still can't pull himself from St.Louis. He likes it there for some odd reason. Aunt Velma is in Colorado while my Aunt Fay is in western Kansas. My Uncle Jim, well I think he is in Warrensburg, Missouri, not too far away. I do still have my Aunt Norva and Uncle Dale living here in Kansas City but I do not get out to see them much.
The question that hits me as I listen to Leonard Cohen's last album goes like this. "Is it better to say be able to say good bye to loved ones or easier not to." I don't know. I sincerely just don't know.
It kind of feels like my good byes may be finished no matter what the answer may be.
It is starting to get a little lonely around Kansas City.