Morningtime. I am bound for Savannah, riding in our little white utility van. My wife is driving, and I am in the passenger seat writing to you.
We are flying past farmland and cattle, occasionally stopping at side-of-the-road veggie stands, or filling stations, trotting inside to conduct a thorough inspection of the commodes.
On top our dashboard sits a stack of classic country CDs, teetering like a famous tower in Pisa. There are maybe forty separate albums from the golden days of Nashville twang and fringe. Everything from Ernest, to Acuff, to Loretta, to Willie. The old highway hums beneath my tires as Tammy Wynette reminds her listeners to stand by their male counterparts.
Funny. These CDs used to belong to my mother-in-law. They were her prized album collection. After she passed a few months ago, we were sorting through her belongings when I came across all her beloved LPs, forty-fives, cassettes, eight-tracks, and CDs. Nobody wanted them so I confiscated the lot. She would have wanted it this way. We shared an impeccable taste in music.
Anyway, this morning it’s almost hard to believe that my wife and I are on the road again. We used to go on the road all the time. We used to live on these old highways.
Such is the life of a hack writer.
People are always asking you to speak at events after you write a few books. Usually, it’s Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis meetings, church groups, or the chair yoga class senior at the citizen’s center.
We did it all. No speaking gig was off-limits. No journey was too far. My wife and I visited almost every state in the Union in our little secondhand Labcorp van. We’d wake up in some no-name Montgomery hotel, eat a meager breakfast of Pop Tarts, whereupon I’d deliver a speech in a conference room to a bunch of people playing on phones.
After which, we’d eat lunch at Shoney’s, then drive all day so I could do my little one-man show in Fayetteville, Greenville, Asheville, or Craters of the Moon, Kentucky.
But this past year, my wife and I have strictly been homebodies. We were too busy to travel because we were caring for my elderly mother-in-law. And after my mother-in-law died, it was nuclear winter.
The tedium that follows death is never ending. The paperwork, the estate stuff, the sorting through antiques, the figuring out what you’re going to do with your life. Dying is hard work.
All in all, it changed the way I look at life itself. Death has a way of doing that I guess. I realize this is going to sound painfully corny, but death is unlike any other major event. It reroutes the course of your life. It alters your routine. It changes your brain. And thusly, it makes you into a different person. Suddenly you have different thoughts, different values, different aspirations, and different life goals.
All of a sudden the things that mattered to you don’t. And those little life moments you never paid attention to before become tantamount. Going to the beach with your wife to savor a morning sunrise takes precedence over, say, filing your income taxes.
Either way, we are back on this lone highway for now, together, bound for the Georgia coastline. We are not the same people. We don’t even act the same.
Sometimes while driving my wife and I hold hands for long periods without speaking. Sometimes we just listen to Patsy or Merle sing cheating songs.
Other times, we pull over to the shoulder simply to take in some arresting scenic view—something we never used to do.
Life seems more precious now. No wait. Scratch that. Life is more precious now. And without being too melodramatic here, life to me seems a lot shorter. Lately the remainder of my life seems less like years, and more like mere hours and minutes. Which makes being with my wife all the more special.
When the CD finishes playing, I eject the disc and pick up another. This one is Johnny Cash, singing all his greatest hits. I slide the disc into the slot and turn it up. Johnny is in good voice today.
My wife says, “Mother would love knowing that we’re listening to her country music.”
She pauses to wipe her wet cheek, then she reaches across to squeeze my hand.
Here we come, Savannah.
Kathy Conroy Harvey - October 21, 2021 12:41 pm
Hope one of these trips you come on down to Beaufort South Carolina. Would love for ya’ll to visit the Pat Conroy Literary Center. We know all about loss. Love to give you a tour anytime.
Janet Hicks - October 21, 2021 12:49 pm
You are so right about death and how it rearranges your life. I lost my husband of 55 years unexpectedly last November, can I say that 2020 sucked? Suddenly I put my life in overdrive because time is short. My kids ask me to do something, and I say, “Let me get my purse.” A friend asks me to cat sit while she’s out of town, and I say, “Absolutely!” Everybody’s busy watching football, so I go alone and climb The great Stone Mountain, observing lots of smiling faces. I’m asked to serve in some way by my church, and I’m eager to do so. I’m going to visit my college roommate next week, and we’re going to the Ark and to see another college friend. Next month I’m flying to see my brother in Louisiana….I invited myself. I’m a healthy 77 year old, and nothing is holding me back, so I’m going and doing because I want my last years to be full and rich. I want my kids to ask, “Where’s mom this week? Anybody know?” Thanks Sean for your inspiration and your love of people. That’s what it’s all about!
A devoted reader, Janet in Atlanta
Ann - October 21, 2021 4:01 pm
Janet, I too lost my sweet hubby unexpectedly this year. Rough! Rough! Glad to see your comment here and I’m inspired. I really need to crawl out of this dark hole I’m in. I appreciate your ideas. TC
Trudy - October 21, 2021 1:00 pm
Having lost my mother in July, I can truly relate. I know how you feel, you are not the same person. It seems like everything I do, I have thoughts of her. She lived with me the past four years so I see and feel her everywhere.
Thanks for sharing this with us.
Debbie g - October 21, 2021 1:06 pm
Every moment of life Is precious. Thanks for reminding us. Love you Sean and Jamie. Y’all are my Norman Rockwell
painting. Love to us all
Cathy - October 21, 2021 1:07 pm
Grieving the loss of a loved one is painful both physically and emotionally. There is no set time for the process. Eventually you reach a point where you can think of that person with a smile rather than a tear. My Dad has been gone over 50 yrs and although I smile when I think of him, I still tear up when his name comes up in conversation with family. So, I am approaching my 74rh b’day and I try to treat time with the thought that we are not promised a tommorrow. I end phone conversation with I love you a lot more than I used to and not just with family but with friends as well. Enjoy that roadtrip and each other. Country music is great but some of the best will cause you to cry. Play some lighthearted tunes as well. Jamie’s mom would smile in heaven❤️🙏🏻
Nancy Crews - October 21, 2021 1:08 pm
Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - October 21, 2021 1:13 pm
I got to attend your show in Gadsden, Alabama and I didn’t look at my cellphone the whole time! You were on fire that night. I have never seen another show like yours. I want the rest of the world to experience you!
Sandra - October 21, 2021 1:14 pm
There is nothing like good ol country music. That and country gospel is all I ever listen to. Enjoy your trip to Savanna. ♥️🙏🏻
Patti Knapp - October 21, 2021 1:18 pm
I loved this column. It brought a tear to my eye and I can definitely relate to the way it seems like life is suddenly picking up speed towards the finish line. I lost my mother after being involved in her last years, moves, hospitalizations, transition, etc for the last 4 years. Life is sweeter and more precious somehow. Thanks for the reminder ❤️
Angela Lane - October 21, 2021 1:23 pm
Safe travels! Stop by Vidalia on your way and say hello! Heck, give me a holler and I’ll show y’all around!
Lori - October 21, 2021 1:31 pm
Wiping a tear away myself after reading – Mother Mary in our hearts as well as you and the Mrs…now go listen to some Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn youngins ❤️
Kay Quinton - October 21, 2021 1:34 pm
Keeping this one, Sean!! Lost my hubby 10 years ago and this is exactly how I now feel about life. Some things just don’t matter like they once did. Death makes you set your focus in a different direction! Thank you, once again, for all of your posts. I wake up each day with something uplifting and reflective to read!
Paul McCutchen - October 21, 2021 1:36 pm
Willie Nelson’s ” On the road again” must be banging around in the back of your mind. Have fun
Pete Tucker - October 21, 2021 2:07 pm
Sean, that’s good. I think I’ll dig through some of my CDs and just listen. Thanks.
Martha - October 21, 2021 2:16 pm
Close to me you will be. right now the weather is pretty good. Besure to watch the sunrise, I usually do.
Thames Robinson - October 21, 2021 2:25 pm
Where can I see your speaking calendar?
Carol miller - October 21, 2021 2:39 pm
Love this and wish I was there to hear you
Buddy Caudill - October 21, 2021 2:43 pm
You are absolutely my favorite writer.
In many ways, we have had similar pathways, leading to our current place in life.
(Except, I am quite a bit older).
It’s pretty cool that you enjoy traditional Country music.
Some musician friends and I started a traditional, classic Country band just as the pandemic was beginning.
Obviously, we had a hiatus as the shut down took hold, cancelling rehearsals and gigs.
Finally, we are pretty much full steam ahead now.
Our objective, as a band, is to bring to life, the past seven (+) decades of traditional country music.
We have titled our band, Liz & The Grand Tour.
When you have time in your crowded schedule, please feel free to check out our website : lizgrandtour.com
A big fan of yours, Sean,
Buddy Caudill (the drummer 🙂 )
Connie - October 21, 2021 2:46 pm
Music is the tie that binds us to people. Country music-the kind you’re listening to-will be here long after we are gone, and it is my fervent hope that my children will one day understand why I love it so. I can’t hear Patsy Cline or Loretta without thinking about my mom. My dad and uncles, brothers and cousins, spent countless nights playing all that music. They are all gone except my brothers and nobody plays anymore but the memories that music conjures up are precious. Your mother in law would be very happy to know you are listening to her music. Safe travels and hugs to you and Jamie.
Susie Dove - October 21, 2021 2:49 pm
Hi Sean! I would love to send you a CD of my daddy. One of the most beautiful voices of country music I believe you’ll ever hear. May I please have your address so I can send it along with the other 10,646 other mail ins you get? Lol! Thank you!
Christina - October 21, 2021 2:54 pm
Capturing these precious moments in life, that’s what you help us do everyday, Sean. When will you be in Southern California?
Richard Gethers - October 21, 2021 4:55 pm
Lost my wife 7 years ago. This brings back so many memories. We held hands everywhere we went. One day, walking through a parking lot on a shopping trip she looked up at me and said “you know, one of these days one of us is going to be really sad”. Boy was she ever right. Really sad. I often wish I could hold her hand again. I still feel her hand in mine and allways will.
Linda Moon - October 21, 2021 5:32 pm
I’m glad you turned your keys over to your wife while you’re beside her writing. Being bound for Savannah is always beautiful, and your writing…whether humorous or sincere…is beautiful, too. Dying IS hard work. Lots of my family and friends have died over the years. And, like yours, my LIFE perspective has immensely changed and grown me up a lot. I hope I can be around long enough to see you and your wife again and maybe my childhood friend, too, who is a preacher there at a Pintlala church where I saw all three of you together! The next time I take a road trip, I’ll listen to my old CDs and think of Mother Mary and LIFE itself, too.
Becky Souders - October 21, 2021 7:12 pm
Changes your brain indeed! My husband was a morning person, so for 44 years I was also a morning person. He’s been gone now almost seven years, and I sleep till mid-morning or later… every day that I can. And now, at 78, I’m wondering just which person I really am!
Thanks for your good words, Sean.
MAM - October 21, 2021 8:27 pm
Such a sweet way to remember Mother Mary! She knows that you have her beloved music collection and will take good care of it. Enjoy your trip to Savannah, a charming town.
Lynn Poling - October 22, 2021 12:15 am
Savannah welcomes you! My husband and Grandaughter are coming to see you! We bought 3 tickets the day the tickets went on sale. So excited after all these years of following you. I however won’t be there( makes me sad). I’m in Tampa with my grandson while his mother is out of town with his sister my Grandaughter at a dancing event. Alan Poling (hubby in 3rd row to your right) will without a doubt be your biggest fan there at the Tybee Post Theater (the cutest theater ever)! My Mom was supposed to be there on her 84 th birthday but health issues prevented it. Wish I were home . I’d invite you and Jamie over for a good dinner. I grew up in Alabama! I’m rambling. Enjoy our beautiful little city! Come back often! Big ole hug to you and Jamie! Your friend Lynn
Max Corder - October 22, 2021 12:59 am
Two of my three boys are gone now. Mother and Dad years ago. One son at 19 and the other at 39. Don’t want to talk about what happened. Just miss them and what their lives might have become. My wife’s father her is gone and her mother is 94 and in a nearby assisted living place. Our lives are on hold waiting to deal with the issues. But, we’re still vertical, living day to day, and appreciating the fact that though we’ve got the aches and pains of the 70’s, we’re doing ok. I love to sit and listen to the old Gospel songs that I learned long ago in that little Baptist church. And some Country as you talked about. And Elvis, who was a great Gospel singer. What is the most important thing to us? First our Faith in the Lord’s goodness and love. His promises. Second our family, 4 granddaughters. All the Blessings of Life. And Bless you Sean, for reminding me of all of the good things in the life of loss.
Debra Chambers - October 22, 2021 2:16 am
If you’re so inclined, there is a a great brewery called Service Brewing at 574 Indian Street in Savannah that has “Bluegrass by the Pint” on Fridays from 6:00-8:30, featuring “Swamptooth”, my son’s band! They just released a new album, B-Flat Earth, which is great! Of course, being his mother, people may think I’m a little biased. Well, I AM, and proud of it! My son, Cory Chambers, writes most of the songs, which are stories in themselves. He’s written some great ones, with this band, and also with City Hotel, another well known Savannah band that you can listen to on the web. Some of my favorites, many of them from true stories, are “Don’t Go to the Porch, Cause There Ain’t One”, “Raining Words” about writing, and my all-time favorite, “Riding Next to Me”, about his grandfather (my father-in-law), who died several years ago, being on the road with him. I truly think you’d love it, because it’s about the love he has for his grandfather, and what an influence he had on his life. I’ll try to send it if I can figure out how to do so! Sorry to be so long! I hope you and your wife have a great time in Savannah. We love it there! Praying for your grief to decrease, and your joy to increase!
elizabethroosje - October 22, 2021 3:10 am
yes, this makes sense. I appreciate your writing about it. Grief really does take time to get reoriented and one finds oneself with a difference focus. God bless you. Your all still on our prayer list.
Kathy - October 24, 2021 9:09 pm
Reminds me of the Louis Armstrong song “We have all the Time in the World”. Originally played in the James Bond movie “Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.
Bill - April 2, 2023 12:17 am
You are so very blessed by that hand squeezer.