In writing these memoirs, I’ve had trouble with the timeline. Now, I have to backtrack a few years to 2007. I met Paul Cavanaugh when I was twenty and he was eighteen. We hitchhiked across the country only a year later, had a baby then another and a third quite a few years later. We grew up together and separately as we struggled to survive and raise our family, and we made beautiful music together. After a tumultuous twenty years, we went our separate ways into new lives while remaining the best of friends. I often wondered if it would have been better to have been friends rather than partners, but then we would never have had our children who we both loved and cherished. Paul was the historian in our relationship. He always remembered every detail, names of people and places, dates and more. After we split up, he ended up with a woman he had had a crush on while we were still together, and I met Dick Kavanaugh. We never stopped loving each other but had to move on to our next phase.
On December 15th, 2006, Paul was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had been suffering from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), an incurable disease that makes breathing difficult. He had been a smoker since he was eleven and had grown up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at a time when pollution was uncontrolled. Both of his parents had cancer as well, and his dad had died from lung cancer. Although Paul finally gave up smoking cigarettes, he never stopped smoking pot. I remember him arriving at one of my parties, gasping for breath but walking to the back of the large yard, stopping frequently to rest, until he finally made it to the smoking section where he spent most of his time. I guess we all knew that it was inevitable that he would get cancer someday, but in the five years that he suffered from COPD, his doctor never ordered another x-ray. By the time he got his diagnosis, it was a stage four cancer.
He was still living in the trailer we had purchased when his mother died, though it was in shambles now. There was mold growing inside, the floor was rotting, there was a pile of garbage in the front yard that never made it to the dump, and the front porch that I had built with my dad was falling off. He asked me to take him to his appointment with the oncologist. He could barely get around anymore, so I asked our older son to go with me to help me get him out of the trailer and into the car. That day, the oncologist predicted that he had maybe three to six months to live without any therapy and possibly a year with radiation and chemotherapy. He decided to forgo any therapy and enjoy a better quality of life while he still could. We brought him back home and got a call later that night that he was in the hospital in the ICU unit hooked up to a ventilator.
We rushed to the hospital, where I noticed how agitated he was, trying to pull out the ventilator until they had to strap him down. While we were there, although he was unconscious, he was calm and fairly relaxed. I started reaching out to my community immediately and set up friends to sit watch over him, hoping that he would recover. I was so touched by the number of people who came. Paul had people there twenty-four hours a day. After a few days, he regained consciousness and was soon released. Meanwhile, his partner told me that she was not able to care for him anymore in the condition he was in. It all broke my heart, and I wasn’t sure what to do now. I still loved him more than anyone else. He was one of my oldest friends. I spoke to my children and to Dick, and we decided that I would not take him back home but would let him stay at my apartment until our daughter could set up a space for him there. I felt so lucky to have a partner who was willing to house my dying ex-husband for those few days. Paul was not happy when I picked him up from the hospital and refused to take him home. He didn’t know that his partner had handed his care over to us, and I didn’t tell him. I decided to let him think I was being bossy and bullying him into this new arrangement.
Whenever we asked him if he wanted to travel anywhere during this final time, he always replied that he was satisfied. “I’ve had a good run,” he would say. I wanted our children to have the opportunity to ask him questions, hear his stories and just enjoy their dad. But Paul was ready to go and mostly wanted to be left alone. He was still angry from his early trauma and as the end came near, her started to take it out on the people close to him. It was a very difficult and stressful time for everyone. Paul’s partner came once a day for a short visit which usually soothed him a bit. Our older son, Justin, was out of work and stayed at Jes’ house to care for Paul. He was the one child who had struggled the most in their relationship, and he was the one who stepped up when needed. I did the same thing later on with my mother who I never felt liked me. Jes was working from home, trying to maintain her work schedule while her dad was dying in her son’s bedroom. My grandson mostly stayed with his dad during that time. Our youngest son, who had the closest relationship with his dad, was sixteen at the time.
I visited every day and brought our son and granddaughter who were both living with me. Many friends came by to visit with Paul, and his siblings traveled to see him. We all thought we would have a few months, but Paul died exactly a month after his initial diagnosis on January 15th, 2007. I remember that day so clearly. It was icy that morning, and I almost didn’t go because of the road conditions. As I was driving along, I suddenly started crying and said aloud, “It’s good day to die, Paul.” When I arrived, he had just passed. His closest sister had also just arrived for the second time. We had called and told her that we thought it was going to be any day, but she just missed him as did I. None of us thought to look at the clock to mark the time of his passing but it was not long after eleven am. Paul loved numbers and would even recite them in his sleep. He marked special times with parties such as his 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 party which was on June 7th, 1989, where we all had to whoop and holler at 01:23:45 am and pm, and his 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-0 party which was on July 8th, 1990, where we whooped and hollered at 12:34:56 am and pm. He was born on November 11th, 1955, at 11:11 am, so we decided that he must have died at 11:11 am. It was close enough for us.
Only a few days before hospice had finally come and brought a hospital bed and supplies to make his parting easier. I was angry for a long time that it had taken them so long to come. We had been asking for two weeks, knowing that the end was near. I was also angry at his doctor for not staying on top of his condition, for not finding the cancer before it had gotten so bad. I felt robbed of more time with him for my children and for myself. We never really had closure. All of his stories were lost, except for the ones I could remember and retell. My best friend, the father of my children and our historian was gone too soon, and everyone looked to me to take charge.
I had never had to deal with a death as an adult, but I figured it out. We called hospice who sent someone over immediately and helped us arrange for his body to be taken away. Then I helped our children find a funeral parlor and arrange his cremation. I navigated Social Security and other bureaucracies and managed to have “road scholar” included on his death certificate. With the help of many friends, we threw a wonderful celebration of his life. He always said that he wanted to have a big party with music and food when he passed on. We showed videos and had recorded music of our band as well as live music by many friends. Lots of people brought food for a potluck, and thankfully, one of our friends told a couple of bad jokes. Lots of people showed up, even my parents and siblings, none of whom ever liked Paul, came to pay their respects. I think he would have been pleased at how it all turned out.
The music community was supportive as well. Greg Haymes wrote a wonderful piece in the Metroland about his passing and promoted a fundraising concert that would be held at the Lark Tavern. One of the many reasons I had eventually obtained a legal divorce was to remove each of us from financial responsibility for the other. Paul had not paid his property taxes for a few years and was facing repossession of his home. We didn’t know this until after he passed. He left our children nothing but debt, and the community wanted to help out. Two amazing people who we have since lost arranged and promoted this amazing event, Greg and Caroline Mother Judge.
There is still not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Paul and miss him. I miss our shared music, our incredible adventures and most of all our love and friendship. Although, I have loved since then and am now living happily and very much in love with my third life partner, Paul was my first true love, and I will always cherish our time together in spite of the hardships. We truly did make beautiful music together in more ways than one.
This was his masterpiece that took years for him to compose.
Suite: Visions of an Airplane
7/14/2021 08:34:06 pm
I remember the Mountaintop sessions well...had forgotten Jim's solo. May he and Paul RIP and live on in our hearts.
9/17/2021 06:11:18 pm
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