Update : 06.14.16
My father, Peyton Jr., passed away on February 13, 2016, after a 16-month fight against colon cancer. He was a humble guy who loved people. Family and friends were always extremely important to him. He is incredibly missed by many.
This post is dedicated to Dad. I will always cherish September.
Yes, I realize it is November. But there’s something special about September. Professor Jeffrey Peretz of New York University explains, “It’s the end of summer, it’s the beginning of fall, it’s that Indian summertime, it’s the transition from warm to cool.”
Well, Professor Peretz is actually referring to the song by Earth Wind and Fire. A fun NPR piece describes how “September” is the quintessential party song. No one can stay in their seats when the beat starts and you hear the words:
“Do you rememba… the 21st night of Septemba…”
On September 1, 2013, this joyous ode to the beginning of autumn introduced my now-husband and me, and our wedding party, to our guests. The song got everyone to their feet and set the tone for a dance-filled evening. I’m actually holding back from dancing in my seat just thinking about that moment!
So, that’s the obvious reason why I love September.
As sports fans, the ninth month signifies the wrap-up of the incredibly long regular baseball season and the beginning of the post season. Of course, this year, the Cardinals had the best record in the MLB, so September was particularly awesome. October… Not so much. Yeah. I am still heartbroken that we lost to the Cubs this post season. But I digress.
Oh, and then there is the fact that fall begins in September, usually around the 21st of September (coincidence?).
But as of last year, I have another reason to find importance in this month.
Midnight Plane to Houston
On September 18, 2014, I found myself on late flight from Nashville to Houston. A few nights before I had spoken to my mom over the phone. She was tired and scared and physically alone, dealing with an immense situation. My father had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and was in the ICU, on an ventilator. His liver was failing and there was no certainty about what would happen next.
I thought I was going to lose my dad that September.
We all did.
I was not prepared.
No one was.
No one could be.
Dad had been progressively losing weight over that spring and summer, but my family and I assumed it was stress. He had been through a lot over the previous 11 months.
See, in April, Dad moved to Houston to start a new job. He would travel back home to Knoxville every so often and Mom would visit him occasionally, but the separation was understandably difficult.
Also, his father—my grandfather—had been in hospice since the spring and passed away in June.
It turns out that tumors—not emotional distress—were the issue. The growths were throughout Dad’s midsection, consuming all the nutrients that he was taking in. A tumor on his back was so large that it crushed his spine and took away his ability to walk.
All of this had put Dad in the ICU. In an induced coma. With a tube down his throat, doing what his lungs were not strong enough to do on their own.
On the morning of September 19th, Mom received a call from the oncologist. He explained that there were two options: try a tiny dose of chemotherapy in hopes that it would slow the destruction of Dad’s liver, allowing his organs to regain strength, or…
I’m not gonna even mention the other option, because it really wasn’t an option.
My brother arrived at the hospital from Knoxville and the three of us (my brother, Mom, and I) stayed in Dad’s room for the night. The medical staff revived Dad from his induced coma and began the chemotherapy.
I didn’t sleep that night. Neither did Dad.
Dad slept most of the morning, but had become responsive. I asked one of the nurses if I could play some music from my phone. Dad has always loved music, especially R&B, soul, and funk. Maybe it would aid in his recovery somehow.
I chose “September.”
As the song queued up, Dad lifted up his hands and forearms and started to move them left to right, to the beat—an abbreviated version of his typical dance move. I was ecstatic.
Celebration + Survival
Long story made slightly shorter, the chemo worked that day: Dad’s levels began to improve and he was soon moved out of the ICU.
This past September marked one year since Dad’s diagnosis. His recovery since his time in the ICU has been truly miraculous: he is walking on his own, gaining some weight back, and seeing a cessation/reduction in growth of some of the tumors. Although the future is not certain—and rarely is it certain—we all feel grateful for where he is today.
September. It has contained both the best day of my life and the worst.
It is a marker for celebration and survival.
From Adversity to Art
Now, I’m sure you want to know what the hell all of this has to do with art and design. Well, in grad school, the focus of my work was transforming awkward and painful situations into interactive art. I put my personal experiences into a new form that could be understood by a broader audience. My “found narratives” became visual stories.
As a teacher and designer, I want to help others tell their own stories in a way that connects with others. We all have stories to tell. My goal is to assist in choosing and ordering these narratives in a manner that educates, entertains, or excites. In essence, I am encouraging people to become visual storytellers.
September has presented narratives to me. Ones that I absolutely cannot ignore. Despite any pain or emotions that may be associated with this sequence of events, I feel the need to record it and remember it. And so decided to make something to communicate these stories. And now, share them with you.