Sad Songs Say So Much – the Hopeful Ones Say More


sad songs
photo credit: legotrooper via photopin (license)

The first few years, Aug. 14 snuck up on me.

That’s the day my dad died, in 2000. As any of you who have lost a parent know, those first milestones – Christmas, birthdays, Father’s Day – carry an unmistakable void. They came and went, and I wondered how dad must have felt on New Year’s Eve of the year before.

That day – early evening, as people finalized New Year’s Eve plans – doctors told dad he had leukemia.

He waited days to tell my sister and me. I lived in Tallahassee, Fla., eight hours of mostly of Georgia highway away from his brick house in Belmont, N.C. My numbness thawed when I told my friends at work that day, the tears rushing out before my words could.

It’s this time of year, summer on the wane, NFL training camps in full pads, hopes for cooler days, that nature reminds me of what time of year means.

I wanted to write about NFL training camp – days my sister and I rode bikes to the University of Northern Colorado for two-a-day workouts, our only shot at seeing the Denver Broncos up close, close enough to get autographs and pictures and memories.

This is the week I feel most

Instead, I’ll share a story about a year after dad died. I mean to the day. To the minute, even. I want to tell you about it this week, not next, because this is the week I feel most. Not the week we had to tell dad goodbye.

The week before, there was that transition from hope to resignation, when my prayers became less selfish. My prayers matured from “don’t take my dad from me, God,” to “please God, if it’s time to take my dad, do it now.”

The scene for most memories is in my car, driving under overcast skies on Interstate 85 between my home in Greensboro, N.C., and dad’s bed at Duke University Hospital in nearby Durham.

I moved to Greensboro to be closer to dad. My former newspaper understood my desire to come home, and even helped me as I looked for a new job. The staff at the Greensboro News & Record covered my shifts on days my dad needed me most.

I often didn’t listen to the radio as I drove to Durham. Or, if it was on, I hardly noticed. On an early-August drive, my sister called me.

“Are you close?” she asked.

“Yeah, maybe 30 minutes. Why?”

“Just … hurry. Be careful.”

The odds had been against us

Those percentages you talk about with doctors? They weren’t going my dad’s way. They hadn’t, for a while. He’d contracted spinal meningitis, and in his weakened state after a bone-marrow transplant, it was a bit of a mismatch.

I wondered if I’d make it there in time.

I turned on the radio. The first song, “Stay,” by Jackson Browne, made me think of a vacation in New Mexico, the one time the kids’ pleas to stay just another day were granted.

The second song, “Slip Sliding Away,” by Simon and Garfunkel, rang a bit more solemnly.

And I know a father who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he’d done
He came a long way just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again


All those questions I never asked my dad, I wanted to, now. I wanted the sun to shine on his face one more time. I looked up at the grey sky and sped up my pace a little.

Was dad sending me a message?

The third song really struck a chord – “Follow You, Follow Me,” by Genesis.

It gets me, to this day. It felt as if dad was sending me a message.

With the dark,
Oh I see so very clearly now
All my fears are drifting by me so slowly now

Fading away

I can say
The night is long but you are here
Close at hand, oh I’m better for the smile you give
And while I live

I will follow you will you follow me?
All the days and nights that we know will be
I will stay with you will you stay with me?
Just one single tear in each passing year there will b e

The words weaved into the very fabric of my spirit I hoped would hold together.

Dad died at 12:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, the night after his Denver Broncos beat the Green Bay Packers in a preseason game. The last Broncos game dad saw was John Elway’s last before retirement, a blowout of the Atlanta Falcons for consecutive Super Bowl wins.

The milestones followed.

Then, Marie was born

I got sick. My doctor sat with me in an examination room with an open medical book to try and solve the mystery of my pained joints. Two months after dad died, my second daughter, Marie, came into this world, after my wife’s difficult pregnancy.

She and Grace never met my dadAside from Marie’s birth, the year was painful. Up to and including the anniversary of his death.

As Aug. 14 approached, I felt nauseated every morning. It sounds funny, but until then, I hardly ever threw up. I remember getting sick at age 12, after eating at a Big Boy in Texas. Then, at age 24, as a new reporter in Morganton, N.C., victim of a bad quarter pounder.

(It’s a miracle I love burgers).

I wasn’t 36 yet, but my body knew what my mind wasn’t grasping: Aug. 14 approached.

I forgot to ask off from my part-time job as a server at Logan’s Roadhouse. Instead of a visit to dad’s grave or day of play with the kids or cleansing sulk in a dark room, I’d have to refill tea and sling peanuts and serve grilled chicken sandwiches to the lunch crowd.

What the day meant

I must have worn the sorrow like a barbecue stain on my uniform.

“Hey, you OK?” asked a fellow server. I explained what the day meant. She listened. The lunch crowd arrived late, and at 12:20, we sat on wooden benches and waited. I didn’t get my first table until … just before 12:30.

“Want me to get this one for you?” she asked. I declined.

I looked at the clock above the drink station: 12:30. As I walked back on the floor, I heard the unmistakable tune. Holy.crap. No way. Did my fellow server – I remember her face and kindness, not her name – cue up “Follow You, Follow Me” on the jukebox?

Right now, really? At 12:30, exactly one year after dad died?

Thing is, I never told her about the song. So, it wasn’t her.

Stay with me,
My love I hope you’ll always be
Right here by my side if ever I need you

It’s not a popular Genesis song

As sure as anything I’ve ever received – a reprimand or gift, a warning or forgiveness, criticism or a compliment – I received dad’s message loud and clear that day. He was still with me.

It’s not one of Genesis’ most popular songs.

This is good. I don’t own the song in any form, and, until this post, I’d never sought it out. That all reinforces the theory that it’s his message, and let’s face it, “Sussudio” wouldn’t have the same impact.

I’ve heard “Follow You, Follow Me” a few times since, and when I do, it fills a need. It sometimes brings sorrow, other times, peace. Often a little of both.

I have hopes of what lays beyond this life.Are any of right? Whatever awaits us, I’ll always believe my dad could see me from there. And sent a message I’ll carry with me always.


  1. mandyisgr8 says:

    so very touching. and i’m so very sorry. i’ve also lost a parent, and know how words just simply cannot fill the void. just know that others out there feel your pain, and know that you aren’t alone. God bless.

    1. Thanks Amanda. I definitely wanted to convey that there’s some solace for me in what happened that day … Just a reinforcement of faith and belief I’ll see him again someday.

  2. Eli, I really don’t have words to tell you how much this post touched me. So I’ll just say thank you for sharing it with us. And I believe your dad is watching you from whatever comes next, and he’ll always be with you.

    1. Thanks, Nicole. I’ve found that faith is more powerful than sorrow!

  3. Teri says:

    I’m so glad you can take some comfort in the words of the song. I just passed the anniversary of my own father’s death on Aug. 4. I always think of the song by Mike and the Mechanics, ‘The Living Years’

    I wasn’t there that morning
    When my father passed away
    I didn’t get to tell him
    All the things I had to say.

    I just hope he knew that, despite miles and many things that fell between us, I truly loved him.

    1. I love that song too. I can see it from both ends, being the dad, and hoping that my girls will always know how I love them, and being the son, and hoping my dad always did.

  4. Tamara says:

    I rated this post an “Excellent” even before I read it. That’s pretty confident of me, right? I’m never wrong. Now, I’ve read it.
    Eli, I can’t even. The little parts of it. I never throw up. Five times I think. I can count how many times I’ve thrown up in my entire life on ONE HAND, and that’s less than many people I know have thrown up on any given drunken night or stomach virus. I feel nauseated always around July 2nd. That’s when my father passed away. I’m the biggest believer in the radio gods that I’ve ever met, but maybe it isn’t the radio gods sending us these messages. It’s something/someone else. What/who shall we call it?

    1. I didn’t know what to call it, but rather than scoot around that day with mind blown, I just smiled. I had this … calm. This peace I hadn’t had in so long.

      That song has played at other times, when I feel lost, or worthless, or sometimes when i’m on top of the world. It’s like him, checking in. Think of the odds you’ll be on any given station at any given time when a particular song plays …

      Yeah, there’s something else at play.

      And, it’s like our minds and souls know when that time comes, that spot on the calendar, because losing a parent is the most permanent thing you can ever encounter, really.

  5. Wow my dad just passed away and was a huge Denver Broncos fan. I have all his team jackets and jerseys. I do every much love those little moment when you know that God sets up divine appointments just for you so that you know things are ok. I agree with you there was a time when you didn’t want them to go and then when they are weakened from illness it is hard to watch them suffer especially when they were strong as an ox when you were a kid. Great share Coach. I love it keep writing and pouring out your heart! You have some really great things on the inside of you to share. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Parenting is not for the weak at heart for sure!!! I am following you now so I can see when you post. 😀

    1. I have a lot of his Broncos stuff, too. Denver has a great cheering section up above, with our dads and my grandpa!

      Just think, if we’re not awake to them, we might miss these divine appointments, and what a shame that would be.

      His heart was so strong. It was the strongest part about him. I hope I have a heart like that beating within me, too.

      Looking forward to reading more on your pages, too, Michelle.

      1. I am sure that you do have the same strong heart your dad did. I have my dad’s strong heart and also his never quit attitude. I swear sometimes it drives me nuts. I have issues with quitters and quitting can you tell!!!
        Thanks again for stopping by and commenting I look forward to reading your blog. I’m sure I can pick up some more winning tips!

      2. I hope you’re right! Do you see a little of your dad in things about you? That’s how the legacies live on. One day, it’ll be us, in our own kids, that lives on.

        Glad we found our way to each other’s blogs!

      3. Yes almost everything about me is like my dad. I avoid conflict till I have to deal with it. I hide my feelings but will write them. I am a writer/editor, my dad was a writer but not professionally. He was athletic, I am also. His favorite movie was We love Marshall. So is mine. We watched it a lot together. He had Alzheimer’s so he forgot he liked it I always loved to play it for him and he cried at the same part every time. I loved that about him. He taught me how to write, I taught my girl how to write from the heart. He continues to teach me every day even after his death. The more I read his writings the more I understand myself. Odd but it is so.
        I know I am right. If you have not discovered it yet you will. I also think that God will show you just ask him.
        Yes I am glad I found your blog as well. I think when you lose someone your heart yearns to connect with those of like experiences. Sometimes family and friends don’t get why you just can’t get over it. I hope I never get over it. He changed my life in his death.
        That’s a good thing I think. I’m believing for something wonderful to happen for you in fact I know it will. I’m sure it already has but an extra special something….:D

  6. Dana says:

    I’m playing the song as I type this, and I know that every time I hear it I will now think first of loss and grief, but then of hope and faith. I’m so sorry for your loss, Eli. I too believe that the loved ones we’ve lost are still with us, watching over us. And sending us a little peace to ease the pain.

    1. That’s the best thing – the hope and faith, and that’s what I try to see when I hear this! It’s not often, so when it does, it’s a big deal for me.

      Thanks Dana – I wish my girls had been able to know him! They ask me to tell stories, and I love to do that. I find a little more of him in me – and the girls – all the time.

  7. MommyVerbs says:

    A powerful post. Thank you for sharing. I believe that there are glitches in the proverbial matrix, synchronicities of life, that show themselves and share messages. Messages of hope, of wonder, of possibility, of faith. Music is such a powerful conduit of these messages. And if we are paying attention, if we are tuned into our faith and the world around us, in the present, we get the opportunity to hear them. Keep your ears open, these are all around you.

    1. Thanks. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever share it, but it felt like the right time. We have to be open to get these messages, don’t you think? I know some will chalk it up to coincidence, or finding what we’re looking for, but if you’re not looking for it, can you say the same?

      Glad I was open to it. And remain that way to this day.

      I wouldn’t want to miss anything.

  8. Leah says:

    LOVE this post. Don’t even know what to write. I lost my Dad 10 years ago and it seems I have had very very similar (eerily so) experiences around his death and the year following, so your post really resonated with me. And I love the Genesis song. Always have. I think music is sent to speak to our souls with special messages. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thanks Leah. It was tough to hear all these songs again together, because I hadn’t, since that first day. And the last one … that never goes by unnoticed. I’d love to one day read your post about your experiences.

      It is a great song, isn’t it? Even by itself, it’s just one of those that you don’t hear often, but it says so much. More so to some of us. Right to the soul, as you’d say.

      Thanks for taking the time to read it and for checking in, too.

  9. Joyce says:

    It is tough. My dad’s been gone almost twenty years, and there are still days when I think about him and miss him.

    1. It’s so – final. I miss my dad every single day.

  10. Beautiful. God does have a way of just piercing and soothing our hearts when we least expect it, in ways that hold personal and intimate meaning just for us. Daddys know how to do that. 🙂

    1. Thanks Jenn. Message received loud and clear that day. Good job, PopPop.

  11. Eli,

    What a touching post. I have never lost a parent, but I have suffered through cancer (lymphoma) twice, and I sincerely believe it is much harder for the caregivers to watch and not be able to do anything. I do know that you will see your father again and know that he is without pain watching over you.


    1. Thanks Jamie. It could be a post in itself, but after he died, among his things in the hospital, we found several prayer cards for healing and hope.

      We also found one with a prayer about preparing yourself to meet God. It shocked me at first – I took it as a sign he was giving up.

      I realize now it was a sign he was simply getting ready.

  12. I think we all carry that pain for a long time. As I noted in my Father’s Day post even after 35 years I still think of him. The first few anniversaries were tough. I understand.

    1. It becomes part of us, for sure, but I think as the years pass, we hopefully see more of them in ourselves, and maybe even our kids. Thanks, Nelson.

  13. Letizia says:

    What a touching post – I had to blink away my tears as I was reading just to get to the end. My father had cancer a few years ago (he’s cancer-free now) and I still remember the day he told me he was diagnosed – it’s like the floor fell out from under me.

    Your beautiful daughters may not have met your father but they know him through your words and actions and fathering.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece, Eli.

    1. Thanks Letizia. When you hear a loved-one’s diagnosis, it really hits hard, doesn’t it? Maybe harder than the person diagnosed on some levels.

      I think dad experiences these girls through me, too.

      Thanks again, Letizia.

  14. Rorybore says:

    Dang it..crying on a Sunday – normally a day to rejoice. Very powerful. Very touching my friend. And then you through in one of my all time fave songs. This song gets me every time I hear it – and I do have it on my iPod and computer. It’s sad, and hopeful and comforting all at the same time. And clearly…..knows when to be played at Just The Right Moment.

    1. I know, I know … and from the source of normal frivolity, too. I hoe you saw reason to rejoice in it, too. He’s with me still.

      It is a poignant song in and of itself, isn’t it? I won’t save or own it in any way – this way, I know I’m meant to hear it when I do.

      It’s almost as if the one who is suffering in the song is doing the comforting, which is what it must have felt like as my dad let go and saw we weren’t ready.

      Just the right moment, yes – I wonder when I’ll hear it again.

  15. Chris Carter says:

    I was right there with you through this tearful and yet inspiring story… Oh Eli. I could picture every moment. Every song. You in the car…you at the hospital…you perhaps walking with your drink order and suddenly feeling paralyzed at Logan’s…
    Oh dear friend… that was not ‘happenstance’. You know it.

    I can only imagine the kind of son you were… and knowing you, I can only imagine the brilliant light that was your dad.

    Keep shining for him. He sees every time you glow… Can you imagine? xo X 489

    1. Thanks Chris. I know it wasn’t … as well as I know anything else in this life, I know it wasn’t by accident. I think I was a perplexing son to my dad for many years (I could write a post on that!), but as I grew up, he became my best guy friend.

      I do imagine.

  16. Music Transcends…

    Music is essential…


    Your dad is always with you.

    1. You are SO right. Thanks Kateri.

  17. Whoa. I just got chills reading this. So much like my own story. I had actually just moved back to GA from Tallahassee when we found out my dad had CLL. Cheers to having a couple of great men to look up to.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks Laura. I so appreciated your dad story, too. It’s about maintaining that connection to our dads, isn’t it?

      They’re good men to look up to – and great mean to look after us still.

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