So let me tell you about my last seven days...
What a whirlwind of emotion I'm experiencing right now. As most of you know, my father found out he had accelerated liver cancer at the beginning of November. After not being able to find out how it got there, they started chemotherapy but the disease had already taken over. It was just making him sicker and weaker since his liver wasn't functioning at all. He couldn't keep any food down and was dropping weight like crazy. When I returned home from Houston on January 7th, my family informed me that they'd decided to take him off the medicine, let the disease run its course, and try to make his final days as comfortable as possible. They started home hospice that day, and the doctors gave him about a month to live. I immediately cancelled my week in Chattanooga so that I could be home with my family. When it came time to go to Atlanta the following week, my parents both insisted that I go. Reluctantly, I did. It was so hard to leave them, but it was nice to have a release from everything as well. While in Atlanta, I was asked by the club owner if I would be able to return in two weeks to do a show on Monday, Feb. 4. He wasn't allowed to tell me what the show was for, only that it was being filmed for a documentary and he thought I'd be good for whatever it was.
When I got home from Atlanta, I told my parents what he had said. I told them that I couldn't risk leaving again to do a show all the way in Atlanta that I didn't know what it was for, as my father's condition was getting worse by the minute. Again my parents, especially my dad, told me I should take every opportunity that comes my way, and that it didn't matter what it was for. I said I would think about it and see how easy it would be to get to Atlanta and back. Luckily a friend came through with a buddy pass for Delta and I was able to get a cheap flight down.
On January 29th, my dad turned 59. Then that next weekend, I spent the Super Bowl hanging out with my dad, and then left the next day for Atlanta. When I got to the club, I saw several comedian friends of mine and they were all just as clueless as I was. I found out that the 150 audience members didn't know what was going on either. They had only been told that if they didn't like the show, they could have their money back. We were instructed to perform 5-6 minutes of clean material and there was a camera set up in the middle of the room. I had a good set, and waited for the end of the show. When the show was over, they called all of us back onstage. The club owner said there was a special guest in the house to let us know why we were there. He introduced Bill Bellamy, the host of "Last Comic Standing".
Bill walked out onstage and informed the 10 of us that we'd just unknowingly auditioned for "Last Comic Standing". He said that this year they were doing the regular auditions, but also going to several cities and watching comedians perform in their natural element. He then said that two of us, one being me, had been picked to fly to New York in three days to perform in front of the audience on the NYC show. They were going to give us airfare, a hotel, and we got to bypass the audition process. Again, the bittersweet feelings surfaced. The first people I called after the show in Atlanta were my parents. They couldn't have been more proud. My mom put my dad on the phone and he told me that I "HAVE TO GO" to New York and that he loved me. I didn't know that this would be the last time my father would be able to speak to me where I could understand what he was saying.
He had a rough and restless night and had tried to get out of bed, even though he hadn't been able to stand-up for over a week. My mom realized that he needed to be transported to the Hospice of Greater Cincinnati center where they could better care for his symptoms. They said if he started feeling better he could come back home. As soon as I landed in Cincinnati I went straight to my parents' house and got there just before Hospice showed up. I can't tell you how heartbreaking it was to see my dad leave his home on a stretcher knowing that he would probably never return. I helped my mom pack a bag and grab a few things before following my dad down to Hospice. His tongue was swollen and his mouth was so dry that he couldn't speak. He would have spurts of pain, but mostly just slept more each day...all day. Before I left Hospice for home on Tuesday, I woke my dad up to tell him that I loved him, and with every ounce of strength he had, he tried to mouth "I love you too". I still wasn't sure if I could leave for New York two days later.
Wednesday was very hard on all of us. My mom hadn't gotten any sleep in the chair next to my dad's bed as she was up all night trying to comfort him. His endless stream of family and friends to visit him were nice, but it didn't give my mom any chance to get some much needed rest. NBC was gracious enough to book me a late flight on Thursday so that I could spend all day with my family. My mom and other relatives convinced me that my dad wanted me to go and that I should do it to honor him. They assured me that they would take care of each other until I got back on Saturday. With a heavy heart, I flew to New York on Thursday night, and landed around 11pm. When I got there, there was a crew who filmed me getting into the car, interviewed me the whole way into the city, took footage of me being driven around Time Square, and then being dropped off at my hotel. It really was a lot of fun, and just what I needed. I called back home and was told that my dad was sleeping like a baby and they were all excited to hear about what was going on in New York. It really helped me to sleep that night knowing that everyone was ok.
Around 7:45am on Friday morning, I got a call from my mom. She informed me that my dad had passed away in his sleep, so peacefully that she didn't even wake up. You have to understand, my mom always wakes up. The slightest noise, my mom is up. I don't have any good sneaking out stories from my teenage years because even getting out of bed put her on "high alert". As sad as I was about losing him and not being home to comfort my family, I was overcome by a sort of peace and calmness in my mom's voice that everything was going to be fine. She sounded relieved and we were all happy that he didn't have to suffer any longer. I wasn't sure how I would be able to perform that night with so much at stake, feeling the way I did.
I met up with two of my best friends, Tom Simmons and Jamie Lissow. We grabbed some lunch and then walked up to Harlem. It was great to laugh with friends and take my mind off of things for a while. At 6pm, the shuttle picked us up to take us to Gotham Comedy Club for filming. I wasn't sure if I should tell anyone about what had happened so I just sort of kept to myself until the show started. I was 13th out of 19 and I had a really good set. All of my jokes got laughs in the right places and I stayed under the 3-min time limit. Bill Bellamy told me I was one of the funniest people he'd seen in his travels.
It's such a weird dichotomy being a comedian and going through tough times offstage. When most people go through this, they can sit at their desk and be sad while getting their work done. As a comedian, it's so much different because you have to emote that you're in a perfect mood in order to do your job. Your goal is to make people laugh, when inside you're the saddest you've ever been.
After coming offstage, I proceeded to the hallway for my post performance interview. I told them I thought I had done well and that we'd just wait and see what happens. Original right? Then the interviewer said, "How's your dad?” I told them the news and started to get choked up but managed to hold my composure. After they shut the camera off, the interviewer said that he had just lost his father five days before. Then gave me a big hug. It was surreal. I was sad, relieved, happy, alone, comforted all at once. Word started to spread after that what happened and the other comedians and crew were all very supportive. I think they were surprised, as was I, that I had been able to perform that night. But I kept thinking about something my aunt had said that morning. She said, "Your dad passed away because he knew that was the only way he'd be able to see the show that night."
At the end of the show, they called us all back onstage and proceeded to announce who was moving on to the semi-finals in Los Angeles. Six acts were called. SPOILER ALERT: Stone and Stone (twin comedy duo), God's Pottery (another duo who sing songs), Dan Naturman, Louis Ramey, Esther Ku, and Aparna Nancherla were all picked to move on.
I looked to my right towards two of my best friends who didn't make it either, Jon Fisch and Costaki Economopoulos. We all shrugged and that was it. Time to go back to reality. Again, I needed to be around friends. Costaki and I met back up with Tom Simmons and two other good friends, Pat Dixon and Keith Alberstadt. If you've never sat around a table with 6 comedians all telling stories and joking around, it's a sight to behold. Again, it was just what I needed. I headed back to the hotel and tried to get some sleep. My mom had gone earlier that day to start making arrangements for the funeral and visitation. I flew back home on Saturday afternoon and headed straight to see my mom. We were up until about 2am picking songs to play during the visitation and at the funeral. I sat there with my mom as we cried while going through my dad’s music collection playing some of his favorite songs, songs played at their wedding, and songs that we thought were appropriate for the occasion.
On Sunday, it was dad's visitation. We were expecting a crowd, but even I was amazed by the turnout. The visitation was scheduled from 5pm-8pm. By 4:15, people were already showing up. A line formed and didn't stop until 8:20pm. They had to put up turnstiles to try and fit everyone in the building. People were parking a mile away from the funeral home. They had printed some cards for the visitation and ran out by 5:15pm. There were so many people there. Family, people who had known him since he was a kid, people he'd worked with over the years, people he'd gone to church with, people he'd gone on a mission trip to Africa with, friends of my mom, friends of my sister, and friends of mine all came to show their support and appreciation. Even the guy that sold my parents their last car showed up. Does that tell you how special of a person he was? The funeral director said it was the largest crowd he's ever seen, and they estimated that over 1,000 people had shown up. What a testament to my father's life! It was truly overwhelming. When the night was finally finished, we shared some food with family from out of town and then headed home to try and get some sleep.
On Monday morning, the limo picked us up at 8:30am for the 10am service at church. They started with a photo slide show that played along with some of the music we’d picked the night before. There were pics of him when he was a little boy, through his years in the Navy, and plenty of pics with my mom, my sister, and me. He had asked my sister who is an American Sign Language major to sign one of his favorite songs. She did an amazing job. The minister gave a nice message and we then led easily the longest funeral procession I've ever seen to the cemetery. We said our final goodbyes and then proceeded home to start getting on with our lives, deeply mourning the loss of our amazing father, husband, and friend. I know the coming months will be hard. What would've been my parents' 34th Anniversary is less than a month away, my 31st birthday two days after that. The first Easter, Mother's Day, and Father's Day. The first vacation without him. And I know Thanksgiving and Christmas will be rough. But we're able to move on because we know he's in a better place and that is what he would want us to do. I'm going to wrap this up, (finally), but I thought I’d do so by sharing what I wrote about my dad for his funeral. It was printed on the back of the program. Again, I don't know if anyone cares, but maybe it'll give someone some comfort, or insight behind where I get my sense of humor from...
1949 - 2008
I would say that you’re reading this because I have a fear of speaking in public. Since we all know that’s not the case, I’ll be honest and say I know I wouldn’t be able to get through it if I tried to read it aloud. It’s hard enough to type it.
When I was trying to think of what to write, I thought the task would be impossible. How can you possibly sum up the life of someone who helped give you life? What words can do justice to honor a man so amazing? The more words I tried to find to describe him, the more I realized that he’s made my job very easy. The positive adjectives may be endless, but everyone is here today because they know just how many of them could apply to my father. I don’t need to say he was caring, kind, loving, the best husband, the perfect father…everyone here already knows that. I can say that I’ve never heard a negative thing about my father from anyone I’ve met who knew him. How many people can you say that about?
Then I tried to think of the perfect story to tell to provide insight on what it was like having such a positive, funny person be the man to introduce you to the world. But we all know where that’s led in my case. Which leads me to say that I think my favorite thing about my dad would have to be his sense of humor. Even as a small child I remember thinking how cool it was to have your dad be the guy people went to if they needed cheering up. He was the life of every party. He was the first person to put his arm around you to comfort you, or get you in a headlock and run his knuckles across your skull. Whatever you needed, he’d do for you. That’s a friend.
There’s a song that I heard several years ago by the group 4-Him, called “The Measure of a Man”. It says:
It’s not how tall you stand,
How wealthy or intelligent you are.
I’ve found out the measure of a man,
God knows and understands.
For he looks inside to the bottom of your heart,
And what’s in the heart defines the measure of a man.
My dad is “immeasurable” in every sense of the word. I could never hear that song without thinking of him. It’s such a testament to his legacy, and the way he lived his life made it obvious that he knew what mattered most, way before this song was ever written.
The one thing that’s been most comforting through all of this is the fact that when we knew the end was near, our family didn’t have any “making up” to do. Because we’ve always been so close, I could rest easier knowing that I knew where I stood with my dad, and he knew where he stood with me…and all of us for that matter. I don’t want to preach here, but if there’s something I can ask of each one of you today, it’s to get right with every part of your life. Whether it’s God, a sibling, a child, or a friend, don’t let petty differences and grudges keep you from enjoying life with those who are important to you. Take a minute to say you’re sorry or get something off of your chest, because not everyone knows they have a month to live. Ask yourself that if someone close to you were in an accident, would they have known that you really do love them? It’s not easy, and maybe you don’t feel like it’s your job to make amends, but I encourage you to put your pride away, and get right with them. If there’s anything we’ve learned from this, it’s that no one is immune from death, and it’s no good to look back and have to say “I wish I would’ve…”.
I know everyone has been praying for my dad, my mom, Alysun, and I. I know that the comfort that God will provide is everlasting and sufficient. I know that time will heal us and I couldn’t be more thankful for the memories that we have. Everyone here today is a blessing to our family and we ask you to join us in celebration. Celebration that my dad doesn’t hurt anymore, that he’s gone on to a place that exceeds perfection, and that we’ve had the pleasure of knowing someone whose stature is so great and whose equal is so rare. My mom once called me a “chip off the old block”. I can honestly say, until recently, I had no idea how amazing of a compliment that is.
Thank you for reading,