Goodbye, Poppy

by Jill Bishop

in National Conference

Post image for Goodbye, Poppy

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.)

The tall red poppy opened its origami style bloom precisely on time the morning of my departure from Dayton, Ohio.  I looked out my mother’s kitchen window in wonder. The timing was unmistakable, impeccable.  The paper- thin petals were folded, creased and crinkled into one another in a lazy, elegant shape that gave way to the asymmetrical yet perfect spring bloom.  I immediately understood it as Papa saying, “Farewell, daughter.  I am asleep and at peace now. Safe travels home.”  Poppies are magical flowers representing death, sleep, peace, remembrance.  It bloomed on time for me.

My Papa had passed away peacefully with me by his side 10 days earlier. I will always treasure the memory of Sunday May 11, our last day together, listening to his beloved jazz music and helping one another cross over to a new normal.  I brought in a boom box and played a Teddy Wilson CD.  He enjoyed it so and commented on Teddy’s early career with the Benny Goodman Orchestra.  Papa was a Ragtime, Dixieland, Jazz aficionado and spent most of his life playing piano, entertaining and introducing others to his favorite music.  I’m grateful I could send him on from this earthly plane New Orleans style. He took his last breath at 11:30pm with me by his side.

We only shared the Hospice room for eight hours as he mercifully made his transition tout suite after being transferred there from the hospital.  They said there was nothing else they could do for him. My family believed he waited for me to get home to say goodbye in person.  So like him.  Just as in the business of living, in dying he was ordered, organized, respectful, on time, and funny.  He was a purveyor of many things, and was a beloved educator, musician, entertainer and community leader.  His name was Guy and he was known as a great Guy.   He had an interesting life and often commented on it.  He did a lot and saw a lot and he wasn’t afraid to tell his story. He crossed his borders seamlessly and carefully, often looking back, but more often looking forward. I loved my Papa with a deeply admiring heart.

One can never be prepared for what comes before, during, or after the death of a parent.  The entire experience is surreal.  As you tickle the toes of the middle years, and eventually put on their comfortable slippers, you brace yourself for the inevitable.  All your friends have already lost one or both parents.  You know in your heart and mind that your number is up soon.  But soon is vague and it can mean weeks, months, or even years.  What if they lived into their 90’s? People do. As I contemplated the eventual death of my parents, it always felt abstract.  I have held the hand of many friends through the process.  I have felt their pain and wiped their tears.  Sorry they had lost theirs but grateful I still had mine.  Would this ever happen to me? How would it feel? Even in my incredibly vivid imagination I was never able to project that scene in the theatre of my mind. Then the call, ‘get on a plane to Dayton now’ came on May 9 and it all became too real too fast. Those 2,000 miles back to my hometown became a river almost too wide to cross over.

As I watched my Papa cross his final borders my own crossings burned hot and loud across my brain.  My fearless relocation from Dayton, Ohio to Tucson, AZ at age 53 to catch a sunset glimpse of lasting love, and subsequent move three years later to San Diego for a wonderful theatre career opportunity leave most of my safely tucked in middle-aged friends breathless.  Fearless, courageous, brave and crazy are the fond adjectives I have heard about my exploits.  You’re an inspiration, they say.  It takes a lot of hutzpah.  The sun sunk sadly over the Tucson love affair and did not rise again.  Fortunately, as a lover of all things Southwest and Sonoran Desert, I was able to carve out my little slice of paradise there.  However, my version of paradise is a Lucy and Desi style mobile trailer and I uprooted three years later to land on the beautiful, sunny shores of San Diego at the fearless age of 56.  I knew not one soul.  After six months San Diego feels like a warm and sandy pillow upon which to lay my head. I have never minded the heavy lifting of life and am satisfied that my escapades have resulted in some incredible new mid-life experiences and friendships.  I love storytelling, and I’ve added some great ones to my backpack over the past four years.

Upon reflection, I find it interesting that losing my Papa occurred six months after transplanting to another city for another theatre job.  There is a warm cocoon of support to be found in the theatre world.  It can hold you up and sustain you. At Arizona Theatre Company and here at the San Diego REP, the expression “family” is used frequently.  When I moved to Tucson, ATC became my family until I joined the REP which is now my new family.  As in all families, there is always chaos, dysfunction, grit, laughter, and wonderful shared experiences.  From production to development to marketing to admin, we are all part of the same beloved creative machine.  We dust, sweep, and schlep together. We are all part of the same ultimate goal – creating something wonderful on the stage for our audiences. The show must go on and the show should be great.  It’s live theatre, so it’s exhilarating, frustrating, and fragile as the opening of a poppy in the spring.  And often just as beautiful.  Somehow it all comes together and we celebrate and savor its goodness at the last curtain. We then sleep the deep and satisfying sleep of a great and (hopefully) profitable production.

Returning to San Diego and the REP on May 27, I felt the warm support of my theatre family.  They gave my plenty of time off and showed great care and concern for my situation.  Their support made all the difference to me as I knew the show could go on without me for a while.  I realize that my Papa and I shared a love of storytelling, which is theatre at its core. I am so grateful for my REP theatre family and in particular to Larry Alldredge and Dawn Moore for their support.

I also realize more each day how grateful I am to have had Papa in my life all these years; however I realize I have yet to dip even my toe into that huge river of grief and transition.  But, support and love come in small and big ways, and on a daily basis. I feel the warm and sandy pillow here for me to lay my head upon.

 

ALL IS WELL

Death is nothing at all.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

I am I, and you are you.

Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name,

Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference in your tone,

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me and if you want to, pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,

Let it be spoken without effect,

Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.

It is the same as it ever was;

There is unbroken continuity.

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you,

For an interval,

Somewhere very near,

Just around the corner.

All is well.

- by Henry Scott-Holland

All is well, Papa.  I know you are in next room waiting for me.  Goodbye for now, dear Poppy.


Ms. Bishop is a seasoned philanthropy professional and has spent the past 16 years working in non-profit organizations and currently serves as Director of Philanthropy for San Diego REPertory Theatre. She previously served as Director of Major Gifts for Arizona Theatre Company, and in a variety of professional development positions in public radio and domestic violence advocacy organizations in the Midwest.

Prior to her non-profit career, she spent over 20 years in media, marketing, communications, and sales. She earned a B.A. in Communications from Wright State University and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Dayton. She has served as a member of the Board of Trustees for a number of non-profit boards, and believes that serving one’s community is a necessary component to successful philanthropy. Her love of theatre and the performing arts was nurtured by growing up in a household where creativity, music, and theatre were valued and encouraged. She is an avid hiker and outdoorsperson and enjoys travel, live music, yoga, and being a curious soul.