A DEATH IN THE FAMILY: HAMLET HITS CLOSE TO HOME
A Father dies. A son grieves. A simple way of looking at it, but to me this has always been the power of Hamlet. A personal connection that I have always been able to identify with. No, my father is very much alive. But, not well.
You see on the road to making the dream of Hamlet a realization, life decided to throw some curveballs at me, and when I played baseball I was never good at hitting those out.
Around the time we discovered our home space, the Under the Sun Studios in Concord, California, or maybe a little before, there was a death in my family. Two of them actually.
Now, I’m no stranger to this. When I was a child I had to deal with close family members dying head on. And the one death that made me question my faith (and ultimately lose it completely) was the death of my dog at age 15. That was by far the hardest back then, as weird as that sounds.
The relatives who died, I never saw that often and those I did see often, it wasn’t everyday or anything. But my dog, he was always there, never had to think about it. When he died, it was obvious. It was there at every point in the day, simply because he was not anymore. I couldn’t not think “he’s dead and gone and never coming back, even just once for me to see and touch”.
Flash forward to now. A few years ago, as Sam and I are trying to put things together to find a place and a date and money, I was on a vacation to Lake Tahoe with my girlfriend Kim and her family. We were leaving, headed down the stairs to our car and I got a text from my mom. My uncle, my father’s older brother, was dying. And she used that word that, like a fly resting on your nose, draws your focus to that single spot. Dying. Not sick, but dying.
My relatives died as a kid, I was a little too young to have it really hit me. My dog dies, it affects me but it happened so fast…. This was….big. And it’s not like I was every extremely close. I saw him and my Aunt Gail every once in a while, every couple of months or years. Was always updated on them from my dad, who was always emailing him, usually with lame jokes. But this hit me, hard.
I told Kim but focused on driving and tried to convince her I was fine, or perhaps that was more for me. We made it only a little bit out of the condo complex we were staying at when I had to stop the car. I couldn’t hold it in. I cried, more than I ever have before. My uncle was dying and he didn’t have much time, and I wasn’t okay no matter how much I tried to say “I’m going to be okay”.
Eventually I collected myself together and was able to drive, and begin the trip back to the Bay Area. But on the way, Kim received a phone call. It was her dad. Her uncle had died the previous day in a scuba diving accident. To protect her privacy I’ll stop there, but needless to say, with the exception of 9/11/01, this day (which I have forced myself to forget the actual date) was the worst day I can recall. The one day I can’t erase from my memory. My uncle dies and my shoulder to cry on suddenly needs one herself. We helped each other through, like people do, but the hurt of that day, of those people now gone, is still there.
My mom had told me to go see my Uncle soon, her and my dad had seen him and so had my brother. She told me to see him before it was too late, since he didn’t have much time. I decided I’d go see him the next day. First I had to work that night. Yes, after a full day of driving and grieving and crying I was going to go to work. Why? I needed somewhere that wouldn’t remind me of it. I told none of my co-workers, I wanted to push out the questions and prodding.
But, when I got out of work, four and a half hours later as I was thinking of the best route to take to go see my Uncle the next morning, I checked my phone. It was a simple text from my mom and one I will never forget.
It simply read: “Uncle Bill has passed away”.
That was it. I missed my chance. Last time I saw him saw at my brother’s wedding in 2010. This was 2012. That was the last I would every see his face, say goodbye, say I…well, I never really said that, and I so wish I could. I wish I had listened to Kim and called into work and gone to see him instead, not that I would have necessarily been able to catch him before he passed, but there was a shot. A shot now lost, and now all that was left was tears and a funeral yet to be had.
When my Uncle died, it made me think a lot about my father and his health, which as he gets older seems to get one more thing working against it (though he is healthier than he wants to believe). When you’re a son and your father is your guide for being a man in this world. When he’s gone, suddenly things get so confusing, so many questions pop up.
When it was time to do the Hamlet, throughout the entire process I kept saying to Sam: “I just want to be on stage saying ‘To be or not to be’ with my father in the audience”. This was about a life goal, something I wanted to achieve before my father to make him feel proud and for me to know I held nothing back. For me this play was about my father, the things a son wants to say but can’t, and the grief you feel when a loved one is gone, like the grief I still feel this day for my Uncle Bill.
I’ve seen many Hamlet’s and many are great. But one thing I felt none really connected to was the grief of losing someone. Of those missed opportunities and the extra regret of knowing when they passed, you were not there to say a goodbye. I never said my goodbye to my Uncle, and Hamlet never truly said his goodbye to his father, as he was away in Wittenberg at the time. The grief and the anger and the isolation and feeling that no one seems to know the enormity of the sorrow in your heart, that’s what’s in Hamlet’s brain when he all alone says “Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt thaw and resolve itself into a dew!…O God! God! How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world” (1.2.131-136).
When this project began it was a chance to finally do the play I had for years truly dreamed of doing. Now it was something more, a dream that I needed to make come true. A memory I need to happen, that I needed to have there so when that day comes I can look at and say “I did it, no regret there, only joy”.
And with the help of a company of actors and friends, this came true for me. I am in debt with each of them, far more than any of them can possibly know. It happened, and It was good.
But, it was not easy. Right from day one, it was not easy by a longshot. And there were many times I wanted to quit, where I would say “this just isn’t worth it”. But I kept going, knowing what I really wanted out of it. Knowing the regrets I had with my Uncle Bill. Knowing I didn’t want to make the same regrets. Knowing I had to keep pushing. Knowing it would happen, someway, somehow it would work.