My dad had cancer for nearly as long as I can remember. For at least 17 years his cancer was like a pesky yet serious disease that we managed to keep at bay with surgeries, light chemo pills and potions. When his cancer came back, we stitched or nursed him back together, making his decline slow but steady, negating any drastic weight loss or change in appearance, which made it difficult to really see how sick he’d really gotten.
My mom called me that last weekend of August after they’d returned from the doctor’s office. “The doctors said there is nothing else they can do for Jeter. They advised him to go home and get his affairs in order. The doctor gave him about 3 months.” I sat, listening, and calculating in my head, that’s 90 days, one calendar quarter, the equivalent of one season left to spend with the man who raised me.
But what I knew for sure is that when you are fortunate to get a diagnosis that gives your loved ones a finite time, even if it is a few months, you take it. And yes, I said “fortunate” because we will all die at some point, and not all of us will be afforded the luxury to say our goodbyes on our terms in due time.
I flew home to St. Louis every weekend to spend time with my dad. He was in and out of the hospital for the rest of the fall. One day, my mother called me, yelling through the phone that she’d found my dad, previously unable to walk, in the basement, in his office/studio. Stunned my mom was screaming, “Jeter what are you doing down here?! You must get upstairs now before you fall and hurt yourself!” She ushered him upstairs and started talking to me about this thing called an “energy surge,” when people who are near death have been incapacitated, get a sudden burst of energy just prior to death. I googled it, and agreed-- the end was near.
My dad died Friday, December 1, 2017 at peace in a hospital bed. He’d gone into hospice at 4pm the day prior. A few days before that, I’d left him in St. Louis after Thanksgiving break, knowing that would be the last time I saw him alive. The holiday was special to me, as he was still lucid, but fading fast. The day after Thanksgiving, I sat on his hospital bed in my parent’s bedroom, thanking him for being my father and raising me, another man’s child, as if I were his own. I thanked him for loving my mother, setting the bar high for what love should look like. Part of me couldn’t believe I was having this conversation, but I was. He listened, smiled, thanked me, and we hugged. I promised to take care of my mom, and told him it was ok to go. He died a week later.
The morning of the funeral, we were getting dressed when my brother yelled upstairs from the basement, “Hey mom, come downstairs. I want to show you something.” Eric summoned me as well, “Hey Lise,” he said, “take a look at this,” and he slid a letter in my hand. He mouthed, “It’s a love letter to mom from Jeter.” “What?! No way,” I exclaimed, but indeed it was a letter written in my dad’s long hand, but how? My mom came down, read the letter as tears rolled down her face, and Eric said, “I found it right there, in Jeter’s office, placed on top of his piano. It was like he deliberately left it for someone to find.” Then a lightbulb went off! THAT’S what my dad was doing in the basement during that energy surge! The letter was written in stanza, very melodic and poetic like the musician he was. I lost it when I got to the farewell portion: “The things we used to do and say should make me want to stay. But the time for me is over now, I must leave you today.” He literally took his last steps to leave my mother a love letter, and his spirit made sure we would find it the morning of his funeral.
I’d witnessed their love and commitment throughout the years but there is something about Spirit intervening to bring the peace that surpasses human understanding. Although his body left us on December 1, with a tear that rolled out of his eye 2 hours after he passed away when my mom said her final goodbyes, it was his spirit that we laid peacefully to rest that sunny December morning 5 days later.
People who followed my journey on social media, marveled at the “grace” and gratitude in which I’d handled my dad’s death. I didn’t know how to respond; I only knew how I processed this and the losses prior. I felt empty, but I never really felt a grief-stricken form of sadness. Sure, I cried, and cried, reminisced, and moved through various stages of grief, but I was always ok.
In talking to many people after my dad’s passing, I was reminded that the aftermath, and grief that comes after losing a parent, spouse or friend can be debilitating to some. We all grieve differently and the challenge for some of us lies in not falling apart during the process. Fortunately, that wasn’t my experience. While I am no therapist, I recognize that sharing little nuggets of wisdom that have worked for some may provide inspiration to help facilitate the healing process of another.
My healing always comes from listening to spirit and finding the lesson to be learned from a loved one’s transition, even in the most devastating situations. Sometimes the lesson is forgiveness, or maybe you will find your strength in the midst of the greatest loss of your life. The lesson from my dad’s death was to remind me of the power of love, and remembering that I too, am worthy of a love with the bar set that high. That is something that I have struggled with over the years.
What I also know with certainty is that death does not discriminate; it spares no one. It happens even to the best of us, it’s not personal. That’s my rational side, but because of my faith, even in that finality, I know that there is something beautiful and peaceful on the other side. Life as we know it is over, but the spirit lives on, that’s why it’s called a transition.
Grieving is normal, but if you can’t overcome your pain, consider grief counseling. It is helpful to talk about our feelings in a safe space with people trained to help us process our grief. If we refuse to deal with our pain, it can overtake your life and become debilitating. This sense of helplessness often leads to depression and a host of other mental health issues.
If we look for the lesson in death and reframe the narrative to love versus loss, it may eventually help in dealing with the finality of death. I can honestly say that perspective has helped me process my grief, move through my emotions and find the message of love in the midst of pain. But most importantly, it has brought me peace and hope in life, versus getting mired down in pain from the loss of death.
Lisa Bonner provides counsel for large media companies, film distribution
companies, music, television and film producers, and independent artists,
producers, writers and publishers.
Ms. Bonner represents clients in all aspects of media and entertainment transactional matters. In the music industry, Lisa advises clients in the negotiation of recording artist, producer, and music publishing agreements at major and independent record labels, and also negotiates agreements for music licensing, live music tours, and sponsorships. Lisa also
provides royalty recovery administration and litigation management for clients
of Bonner Law. Lisa also serves as film production counsel and negotiates film
distribution agreements, film financing and above-the-line talent agreements
for clients in the film, cable, and network television and subscription VOD
Ms. Bonner speaks extensively on current legal topics, is a frequent legal contributor on various television
programs and provides legal editorial coverage for various print and online news outlets, including CNN,
HLN, BBC News, & CBS News. She is also the host of The Laws of Entertainment a popular podcast on
iTunes. Lisa has lectured extensively on entertainment and intellectual property matters for various
associations and law schools including Harvard Law School, ASCAP, and The Grammy Foundation.
Lisa is a critically acclaimed television producer on several productions including Little Ballers, which
debuted on Nickelodeon and was nominated for a 2016 NAACP Image Award, Little Ballers Indiana, which
premiered on Nickelodeon in March 2017, and Foreman, the authorized biography of George Foreman,
which debuted on FX in September 2017.
Lisa graduated with honors from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism and received
and a J.D. from New York University School of Law.
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