LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Three years ago tomorrow, my dad and I listened to Willie Nelson as he gently passed away. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and the sun was shining through the old window of the hospital. The nurse had encouraged us to bring CDs when my dad was transferred to palliative care, and Matthew and I had stacked up his favorites: John Lee Hooker, Turtle Island String Quartet, Nigel Kennedy and this one, “Across the Borderline” by Willie.
Willie had played an important part in our musical upbringing, with no road trip complete without the whole family singing gustily to “On the Road Again.” My dad loved music. He went to the symphony every month, had me take him to jazz clubs when he visited me in Washington, D.C., and even went through a new-country phase when Garth Brooks was really big. I think he also felt it was important to share music with Matthew and I. When I was very little, he bought me the single “Betty Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes, and when I got older, my Christmas presents would always include some CDS: esoteric picks that he’d heavily researched.
But Willie was one of his favorites, and when I got into the hospital room that day, I automatically popped in his CD.
“Let’s listen to this, dad,” I remember saying.
Of course, I didn’t think he could hear me. Three weeks before, he’d had a massive heart attack, one that left his brain without oxygen for far too long. As a result, we’d taken him off life support and now there was just the wait, a pretty excruciating one, before his body let go.
I sat beside him and we listened to the first song on the CD, “American Tune,” written by Paul Simon.