Dad's death, the show must go on

Grief. We all grieve in different ways. Some bottle it in for processing, some need to share it with others. And there's a host of different ways folks handle their grief. The important thing is that while grieving we do not become destructive, whether to ourselves or others.

We all must grieve our own way.

The show must go on

In April of 2013, after years of poor health, my dad passed away. Though part of me rejoiced at his passing, an end to his suffering and pain, it was going to be a different world without him. Dad was unlike most of the parents I've met in my lifetime, and I thank him for that.

Dad went into the hospital on a Monday and passed on the following Sunday. At some point during that week, I stole away down a hallway at the hospital and called a good friend of mine. I was letting him in the loop of what was going on and also that I wasn't sure how long it was going to take Dad to pass. The friend was directing me in a play and I was one of the largest roles in the production. He needed to know there was a possibility that I might not be there, should Dad still be holding on.

But Dad passed on the Sunday before the production dates. We scheduled our visitation and funeral for Dad. The funeral landed on the same day as opening night of the play. That day I buried my father, spent time with family, but eventually left my family and traveled an hour down the road back to my hometown where the show was happening.

I dropped my family off at the house and went over to the theatre. I walked in, still in my suit from the funeral. I was greeted by cast members and condolences. Back stage I changed from funeral attire to a jester's costume. The show was predominantly a screwball comedy, lots of slapstick. My character accompanied by another jester was one of the screwiest of the whole show.

For some people, going from funeral to jester might sound like a disaster. For me, it was a welcome change.

I had learned a long time ago that what we do on stage is often the only thing keeping a smile on someone's grieving heart. When I was 18, I performed a different screwball comedy knowing there was a grieving mother in the audience. I was pleased to know we distracted her for the evening. I had just never had to do it for myself.

For Dad

Early on in my acting, I started a practice before each theatrical performance I did where I'd dedicate my performance to someone. Typically I've dedicated my performances to living people. Though, I'd strayed from that during my run in a production of Oliver. In Oliver, I'd focused my dedications on the various actors who had influenced me growing up. Audrey Hepburn being one of them.

I had never duplicated dedications during a show, making sure to dedicate each performance to a different person. But having just buried Dad, I strayed from that rule too. I dedicated each performance of that show to Dad. And we absolutely nailed those performances. The audiences were delighted.

I've never spoken openly about how I handled my Dad's death and the show together. But as odd as it may sound to some, it was a welcome duty. After all, there were folks in that audience that knew my father and were grieving him as well. But for a few hours they laughed and forgot to mourn. That's my duty as an actor.

I can still vividly remember standing in the dark of the wings, alone, inwardly making my dedications to Dad. Those are cherished moments I won't give back.


Finally, I will leave you with a song that really resonated with me the week of his passing, funeral, and that show. It played on the radio as I was driving away from the hospital after his death. A sunny afternoon, and it had me balling.