Play That Funky Music

by Tom Wyatt
originally published in 1996

Tom Wyatt and grandson, Thatcher

Memories are extremely important to me and music has always been a very strong memory trigger for me.

Ruth and I just got information on our 20-year high school reunion and the letter said that we would party and dance to the tunes we did way back in 1976. I’ve known and have had a crush on my wife since seventh grade science class and the last time we “partied” with this group of people was at our prom.

I went to the stereo and put in some Fleetwood Mac and Bob Seeger and I suddenly felt the need to listen to the Bee Gees and to do the “bump.” It’s not that I loved high school or the people that we left behind so much, but the music, even the disco, made me think of a very happy time in my life.

There was a questionnaire included with the reunion information asking all of the pertinent information about our lives. When I got to the part about how many children, names and ages, I knew exactly what I was to put down: Blake, 12; Kelsey, 4; John (deceased), 1986-1994, age 4. If they ask, I’ll answer.

I’ve grown accustomed to him not sliding down the stairs because it was faster, his “1arge” hugs and the sound of his giggle at bedtime. It doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped loving him or miss him any less. Each of those feelings grows every day. It’s just one more bit of forward movement that signals healing but not without a certain amount of pain.

When I’m feeling low, I’ll usually seek out one of my quiet places and remember him and what it was like to watch him and Blake growing up. It always makes me smile and sometimes cry. As I’ve said many times before, tears will always be a necessary part of my life. I remember the way he loved to dance; that’s why sometimes I play Harry Chapin’s Dancing Boy over and over.

His favorite song to dance to was a rap version of the Wild Cherry song Play that Funky Music. But since I don’t listen to rap, I play the original version and I see him in the family room cutting a rug and I smile. When I sing to Kelsey at night and I sing Sweet Baby James, I’m singing to him also and I smile.

It’s one more connection to Johnny for Kelsey. Kelsey is learning the concept of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so forth in preschool right now and she is very much into the order of birth in the family. She looks at pictures of Blake, John, and herself that hang in the family room and says who was first. After we count them off, she says that she loves her big brothers. I smile and sometimes I cry a little on the inside.

When I hear Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven, I feel the connection to Eric Clapton and I feel for him. His son, Conner, and my son, Johnny, died just weeks apart. I know that song was written from the heart.

Memories are all that we have of our children and I’m fortunate to have four years’ worth to seek comfort in. They didn’t always bring me comfort, but as time has gone by and I’ve held tightly to them, that has changed.

I talked to my cousin a few months after his father died and during the conversation I brought up some of the wonderful and funny things that I remembered about time spent with my uncle, his father. He didn’t receive this very well, saying that all memories do is hurt him. I let it go, but in my mind I was critical of him but then remembered that there was a time when that was true for me with John.

We can’t project our own progress on other people and then get mad because they don’t get it. If you’re at that point in your recovery that memories are too painful my heart goes out to you and I say hold on to them because there will indeed come a time when you will want to wrap yourself up in them and it will make you smile.

One very important thing to remember is that we have other children. We must never allow the memory of our dead child to become more important that the lives of our surviving children. We must strike a balance within ourselves.

Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and play that funky music white boy, and then I’ll fire up the grill because the kids’ Godparents are coming over. We are going to celebrate Blake’s being selected to play baseball for Team U.S.A. for a weeklong tournament in the Dominican Republic this summer. We’re so proud of him and I know that Johnny is too. May we all cherish the memories and find comfort in them.

JOIN The Journeys Through Grief mailing list
“We have a lot to offer”