Who do we become?

Every moment you meet someone, there’s a story that brought them before you. A trail of experiences, hardship, love, or loss. Our band is here together at this moment in time from an evolution of events over our lives. The joy that we get to experience with each other is the product of some major upheaval. One of those turning points is the death of my father.

My father, Stephen Watson, was a complex man. He held a lot of internal sadness but did take joy in his art and his family. As I began to journey into song-writing, my father was always my biggest fan. I would sing him a song and he would almost always tell me, “that was the best you’ve ever sung that”. He was an avid supporter of folk music with the house often full of the melodical stories of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Mark Knopfler and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. My father could be described as a great appreciator of music which easily rubbed off onto me.

Although Renee and Noelle Coughlin have had a presence in my life from the year that we were born, we led lives down very different paths. Our parents were great friends and all 4 made musical enjoyment and expression a priority in the upbringing of their children. The two families would get together for dinners or camping trips, us girls appreciating each others company but not seeking it out on our own. That is, not until the summer of 2012.

In June 2012, my father was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and would succumb to it 3 months later. I had only just moved back home after 3 years of living away at College and I was feeling the lack of a close-knit circle of friends in my hometown. I worked at maintaining a strong exterior as I believed that was what my family needed of me. Renee, Noelle and their family were a constant throughout this time, sharing space and helping us to find the joy that still existed around us. The Coughlin family seems to share an ease of being present in their emotions and I see that as being something that our family needed. The presence of Renee and Noelle in my life provided catharsis and comfort. I couldn’t cry and I couldn’t delve too deeply into the emotions I was feeling, but we could make music. That summer was a time of sadness, loss, music and laughter. I received a great deal of closure throughout the whole process. I was given the opportunity to spread my father’s ashes in Antarctica, I sailed with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for the 2 years following the death of my dad and I worked through my grief in my own way. Life carried on for all of us with its fair share of upheaval and change. Renee, Noelle and I had a few brief emails back and forth, and upon my return from my sea-fairing years, I knew they were people I wanted to share my life with.

Living back in London Ontario, I pursued a hobby of song-writing and solo performing. Noelle and Renee began to share a similar hobby on their own. Through friendships that we were fostering with one another, and intermittent jam sessions, we decided to start planning shows together. We would play separate sets and create an evening of entertainment. I wanted to be around these people that brought me joy and nostalgia and it felt wonderful to create music together. Music was healing as I moved through past hurt but it was also a catalyst of growth in our friendships and in how I wanted to live in the world. The separation between our sets began to blur, we began to take part in each other’s songs and over the period of about 2 months, we became a cohesive unit. We excitedly shared our music with one another, eager to add harmonies and our own stylistic twist and just as eager to have the others do the same. The inspiration was overwhelming. I wanted to be making music all the time. I felt a sense of belonging in many ways. I was back home, learning what that meant now. I was able to fully immerse myself in the relationships in my life now that I had grown some roots into London Ontario again. I was also navigating my way into some communities, notably the London music scene.

Steve Plimmer, a friend who I had met through my brother and their connection to each other in the 90’s punk scene, joined The Pairs in the fall of 2016 as beat-maker. He knew my father well and lives within the world I see as being catalyzed by his passing.

The death of a loved one is, of course an impactful loss and painful experience, however, every day I see the beauty that was created to fill the void left by the death of my father. I do believe that he would enjoy seeing the life that has come to me as a direct result of his death. From destruction comes creation and such is the beautiful cycle of life and renewal.  I can only hope to create as much joy and life when I die as my father did.

By Hillary Watson

Renee CoughlinComment