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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From Six Feet Away: Of Parrotheads and Parents

A Doctor Looks at 50 (Okay, 52)

Last weekend came the shocking news that Jimmy Buffett, the world’s favorite beach bum, had died. Synonymous with the island life, Buffett’s music created another world that promised endless sunsets and bottomless margaritas. Despite being never “meant for glitter rock and roll” and having a rather casual appearance, the man was a savvy businessman of another level, with a net worth in the billions. Everyone paid tribute to the late musician, from the casual “Parrothead” to the top of the musical food chain (if you haven’t seen Sir Paul McCartney’s tribute, you should search for it).

As with the passing of all musicians, the shared experience of loss quickly gives way to a debate between the “true fans” and the casual fans, with the diehards proclaiming that you can’t appreciate Artist X if you only possess their greatest hits album, then proceed to give you a Master Class in how to navigate deep tracks from their point of view. I remember a friend asking me how many Elvis albums I owned, and when I responded that I only had the collection of Top Ten hits, he looked at me and said, “I thought you were a fan!”

After watching the same process unfold over the past week, it occurred to me that this exercise gets repeated throughout our lives, despite the celebrity of the dearly departed. Sure, we don’t debate the music being made by the dearly departed, but don’t we try to dictate to others the way we should grieve? This has become especially evident to me in the past few months, after saying goodbye to arguably the biggest influence on the man I became. It sneaks up on you like a ninja, encompassing you until it gets hard to breathe. Like hearing a Tom Petty song on the radio makes you mourn for the singer/songwriter, random things I experience in life that remind me of my friend will bring me to my knees. Some tell us we need to move on with our lives, while others will wonder how, if we were so close to who passed, can we laugh at a joke or even smile? The point is simply this, we remember those in death in terms of how we knew them in life. And we should be allowed to “lose it” in our own special way, even if it seems excessive to some and inadequate to others. After a lifetime of relative aversion to the Grateful Dead, it now brings a pained smile to my face because it makes me think of my friend.

And I have no desire to do a deep dive into Jimmy Buffett’s catalog – “Songs You Know By Heart” will allow me to process my grief just fine, thanks.

Pride and Pain, Once Removed

I didn’t understand my mother as a teenager.

She was always worried about something, whether it be the choices I made with my life back then, or how I didn’t save any money from my job, choosing to blow it on music, movies, and fast food. She made a big deal out of the smallest accomplishment, and she treated minor mistakes like major catastrophes. She said something to me that caused me to scoff at the time, but now sends a chill down my spine. “Someday you’ll have kids,” she said, “and then you’ll understand.

Call it what you want – God, Fate, or Karma. They have a wicked sense of irony.

My mom’s words prove prophetic as my nest has gone empty. Indeed, I do now understand, now that I have two kids in college who are essentially “on their own.” They make their own decisions, and with it comes a plethora of emotions. The joy is the easy part. I see my daughter working to help cover the costs of her education, and it fills me with pride. I see her getting to experience things that I could only have dreamed of when I was 20, and a surprisingly small part of me envies her. That would be a selfish emotion; the part of me that loves my daughter is thrilled that she is having these moments with her life. And my son is doing nothing more than living my college goals. He made the drumline of the Marching Hundred, something his dad never had the drive or the talent to accomplish. He has been waiting to be on his own, and the smile I see on his face when he is doing his thing warms my heart. I am there for all the good moments, because when I bask in the sunlight that they create, I don’t feel so old, so used up. And don’t we all need something to make us feel again? Too often, our daily routines suffocate us and make us ask, “Is this all there is?” I am all in on vicarious experiences now.

On the flip side, the pain is more intense when someone you love is experiencing it. My daughter lives four states away, and she is denied something as simple as even a hug when she needs it. We have not made the trip on Parents Weekend once, mainly because we were tied up with high school marching band obligations. And now, she’s dealing with some very adult issues, and I find myself in the impotent position of being unable to fix it. I have gone from player to coach. I can run to my son’s rescue, but I struggle in a different manner there. I have to let him live his life, when the easiest thing to do would be to fix everything. Different level, different devil, I suppose. I have suffered plenty in my five decades of laps around the sun, but no struggle has been as paralyzing to me as feeling the pain of my kids.

It reminds me that I need to call my mom and apologize. Again.

Sorry for the long hiatus. Hope you enjoyed. Feel free to share as you see fit. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter/X/whatever, to get updates on when I post. As always, be excellent to each other, and…

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