Just a couple of weeks removed from tax day, the quote from Benjamin Franklin has come to mind several times that says, “There are two things that are certain in life, death and taxes.” Everyone would like that not to be the reality of living, but these two ([un]necessary) evils are unfortunately unavoidable.
While death is the end of both taxes and of life on this plane, there is something that remains unchanged. You see, I feel so strongly about the power of music, that just as I believe that the soul is eternal, as are hope and love, I maintain that music has an innate quality that affects us so deeply during our lives, that after our life on this earth is over, that the music that shaped us continues to carry a dynamic impact on those who have loved us the most after we are gone.
In November of this last year, my wife’s parents moved to Texas to be close to us. It was a move that we were both surprised and excited about taking place. They were both lifelong residents of Washington State, where my wife, Courtnay, grew up. So, the relocation to Texas was a big deal.
We are getting ready to have a baby in July, and both my Mother-In-Law, Kathy, and Father-In-Law, Wally, were so excited for this blessing in all of our lives. Wally would never have been characterized as particularly expressive verbally or with physical affection. His love language was largely shown through thoughtful gifts and doing his best to live with a sense of zest for life.
A man of many interests, his entire career was spent at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard as a Metallurgical Engineer. He loved animals. He was crazy about almost every single sport. Though, I think, besides his family, there wasn’t anything William Wallace Cavanagh loved more in life than he did music.
He and I loved the same things, though I didn’t have his affinity or the remotest knowledge of metallurgical engineering! But, animals, sports, family, and music were all areas where we both had deep passion. When coming to visit, and even more so after they moved here, Wally and Kathy would regularly come out to see me play at my shows.
It is always a treat to play for folks that are clearly enjoying themselves when I am on stage performing. And I would venture to say, there was almost never anyone more connected to what I was doing musically than my father-in-law. That was another reason I loved that man. He always had genuine praise for my songs and passion for performing. That meant more to me than I am sure he knew.
You may wonder why I keep writing in past tense. Heartbreakingly, Wally Cavanagh passed suddenly in his sleep after laying down to take a nap on a Saturday afternoon in late January. To say we were crushed would be putting it mildly. It was the beginning of this exciting, beautiful new season of our lives, and it was over almost before it started. However, the memories we had in the last couple of years, especially as they began to visit more after making the decision to move here were (and will always remain) incredibly precious.
I hate death. You do, too, I’m 100% sure of it. This is especially true when you don’t feel there was ever a chance to have a proper goodbye. Physical touch was not something my father-in-law was very comfortable with, especially between men. For me, growing up with my parents and in the south, expressing physical affection and verbal appreciation to my friends and family was never something with which I struggled.
The last day I saw Wally was on his birthday, four days before he passed away. I went in for a hug, and he sort of awkwardly, halfheartedly received and returned it. I laughed, and said, “Oh, Wally, you crack me up.” You see, it wasn’t that I had any doubt he loved me, he just struggled to convey it. This is the case for many, especially “manly men,” of which he was certainly one. Later on, my mother-in-law said about that night, “On the way home, Wally said, ‘I guess I’m gonna have to learn how to hug.’”
Nevertheless, at Christmas, when we shared with our family that we are having a little girl in July, I will never forget the love and emotion I saw him express to my wife, his baby girl. His eyes welled with tears, and he sweetly touched her on the back of her head and said, “I love you SO MUCH.” I nearly broke down right in that moment. It was a rare privilege to see that expression from him. I loved that he was working on growing. And he really was. We should all be working to grow. Always.
One of the last nights we spent hanging out together, he was sitting in the front seat while I was driving and I showed him one of my favorite bands, which I figured would be a new one for him. It was Greta Van Fleet, whom I wrote about a few months ago here in our column. Knowing Wally loved Zeppelin, Hendrix, and Pink Floyd, I knew they would be right up his alley. There are few things I enjoy more than introducing a fellow music lover to a band I know they will love. That drive home with his commentary saying things like, “Wow. Damn. I didn’t know anyone these days was making music like this,” will ever remain a treasured memory.
Like I said before, when he would come to my gigs, and in a few of those moments in the car listening to tunes cranked up, my father-in-law and I were living in a deep moment of connection together. Even though he is gone, he is not dead. Not really. His soul lives on. It endures through the sweet memories, the apparent desire he showcased to continue to be a better man which inspires me to do the same, and the transformational love and impact the music made on us both. And in those sweet echoes of his life, I can finally feel Wally really hugging me.