, attached to 2009-08-07

Review by HippieMama

HippieMama It's been 10 years since this show took place and only now have I been able to look back on it, and even bring myself to listen to some of it. Despite it being one of the best shows of 2009, my fondness for it is bittersweet.

After spending the previous few weeks at my mother's bed side as she lay dying of cancer in her assisted living apartment, she implored me to stop coming by every day. She was glad we kept our plans to go see Phish at the Gorge (we bought the tickets before she was given 3 months left to live); she wanted me to be happy, knowing how hard her decision to forgo chemo had been on me. I reluctantly agreed to go, sure that these 2 days would be just a quick break and I'd be right back by her side when we returned. We had only just moved to Washington from Vermont, and this would be a first trip to the Gorge for both of us. So, after one last visit we headed out on Thursday, set up camp and went to sleep, excited to see our our first shows in 5 years.

The next morning, I woke up to several messages on my phone. One from my mom's hospice case worker, one from her assisted living facility and one from my husband's cousin, who was staying with our son, at our house.

At around 4:30 that morning, my mom -- my only parent and best friend -- had passed away.

My husband offered to pack everything up and head back, but I told him I needed to think about it. The more I considered going home vs. staying, the more I felt that I needed to stay -- that that's what my mom would have wanted. I recalled some of the information that the hospice case worker gave us during the intake appointment that covered dying, death, grief, etc. and one of the points that stood out to me is that dying people will sometimes choose their moment to let go, oftentimes influenced by how prepared they feel their loved ones are to handle it. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that I needed to stay, that my mother had chosen her moment because she knows there's no happier place for me than at a Phish concert.

My husband took care of all the phone calls to family, friends, her assisted living community, the funeral home, etc. When he was done, I told him I wanted to stay. He said that the hospice worker actually recommended that we do. She told him it would be the best thing for me right now, but he didn't want to influence my decision, so he wanted me to think it through and arrive at what I wanted independently of that.

So we stayed.

Things that are notable about this show for me, personally: "Down with Disease" to open the show was a huge surprise, since they had just played at at the previous show (Shoreline) and we had left it out of our set list baseball discussions because of that.

Waiting for the time when I can finally say,
'This has all been wonderful, but now I'm on my way'
When I think it's time to leave it all behind
Try to find a way to, but there's nothing I can say to make it stop

Also notable for me is that they played both "Pebbles and Marbles," and "Joy" at this show. Everyone interprets what they want from lyrics, but both always came across as parent-child relationship songs to me.

We want you to be happy, don't live inside the gloom
We want you to be happy, come step outside your room
We want you to be happy, 'cause this is your song too

While those songs can be written off as serendipitous coincidences, there is one that I can't dismiss as such.

My mother's name was Sally. No, I'm not kidding. Legally, it was Sara, but she had been Sally from childhood on to all who knew her. "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley" was the one song she and I had danced to together at my wedding in 2005... before the stroke that took her ability to communicate clearly and easily, before the heart attack that put her back into the hospital for another extended stay, before the breast cancer she'd had in 2001 returned and metastasized in her bones, ultimately spreading far enough to bring us to the chemo or hospice option.

To have those 4 men, who have had such far-reaching influence over my adult life, stand on that stage, in front of a crowd of thousands, and say my mother's name -- repeatedly -- on the day she died, referencing a song with such a joyful memory she and I had shared on my wedding day, while I stood in the audience (crying until I couldn't anymore), will never fade from my memories of that day. It was such a difficult mix of emotions to process all at once; the sorrow of deep, profound loss mixed in with an empathetic relief of release, knowing that her suffering was finally over.

On the worst day of my life, after hearing the news I had dreaded from the time as a child when I first came to the realization that a day would come when it would arrive, Phish made me smile, laugh, cry, and stand in awe at the connective power of music.

For that, I will be forever grateful.


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