Revisiting Loss Through Music and Finding the Flame of Hope Within
Every year for the past thirteen years, this date sneaks up on me: November 30. My son Jack’s birthday is also the date on which we lost him in 2007. There were a number of complications throughout my pregnancy, since I was on a few medications and at 39, I was far from my prime. I know I should have been a lot more worried when the ultrasound showed lack of growth and the doctor advised they induce labor two weeks early. But honestly, I was excited. Sure, there was a problem with just leaving him in there, but since we were going to get him out while the getting was good, I didn’t allow myself to consider all that could (and would) go wrong.
I think it’s a mom thing, that inability to let yourself linger on the idea that you might lose your child. In my case, my husband and I had not planned this pregnancy (thus the medications that I was still on), but we embraced it nonetheless. We were living in a large enough rental house in the ‘burbs, and I had a new business in college counseling for high school students in Silicon Valley. I was at the age where I really was running out of time to have kids, and even though I’d never really wanted them, I couldn’t think of a reason not to carry this pregnancy through. After all, is there ever a good time to have kids?
I made playlists to listen to in the car on my commute or while running errands, and some of those songs became forever associated with that brief window in time where we were parents. Okay, maybe not in practice, but in our hearts. We set up a nursery, and my husband spent hours putting the furniture together with inscrutable printed directions composed entirely of Swedish hieroglyphs. We had a baby shower (actually TWO — one for friends, and another for family). We were excited. We learned our baby’s sex was male, and struggled to find a name that made us both happy.
And then, in a matter of hours, everything fell apart. I won’t go into detail here, but things went from joyous to panicked to stunned shock pretty damn fast. I remember my husband sitting right there with me, as if afraid I might break into a million pieces. I remember feeling oddly ripped off, as we were moved from the delivery ward to some nameless recovery area downstairs in the hospital, where we wouldn’t bum any of the new families out. And my playlist? I deleted it, and certain songs were unchecked for several years so that I wouldn’t have to hear them.
Among the songs, there are at least three that I cannot listen to today without being catapulted in time back to those hopeful days, and images of a future that never got a chance to happen. Those songs: “Lullabye” by the Dixie Chicks (I’m not really a fan of theirs, but this one sucker-punches me every time), “The Host of Seraphim” by Dead Can Dance (this wasn’t on my playlist, but it was used at the heartbreaking ending of The Mist, which we saw in the theater the day before going into the hospital) and a hidden song at the very end of Rasputina’s “A Quitter”, in which lead singer Melora Creager’s infant son makes noises while she sings a lovely song to him. I call it “My Son” but it’s not credited anywhere on the album. That one is beautiful and I still love it, even though I feel a bittersweet sadness every time I hear it.
During those first years, I was very aware of this date, and dreaded it. I’d get very downhearted as the day approached, and even as more years passed, if the day slipped past me, I’d still be depressed or quick to anger and not know why until the day was almost gone. Or one of those songs would mysteriously pop up on my song rotation, like a persistent specter of hopes gone by. Hey, remember me? it seemed to say while the music played in my car, forcing me to pull over. I’m still here! PAY ATTENTION TO ME!
Music is one of my most heavily associative mediums. Media in general is like that for me, but nothing transports me — for better or worse — as immediately and thoroughly as music. I’m actually toying with the idea of creating a soundtrack of my life thus far, but such a project feels far too huge for someone with a questionable memory.
I used to dread these associations and visitations of plans and dreams that never quite materialized. Hearing these songs, though, can really be restorative. It acknowledges those hopes and plans, and rather than feeling the failure, now I let myself feel it without trying to interfere or muffle the pain. Because what comes with the sadness is the knowledge that even though those people I loved are gone now, or those great plans never quite happened, or my heart got crushed for the hundredth time…here I am. And a lot of other truly amazing and wonderful things have happened and I’ve met people and made decisions I may never have made if those losses didn’t happen. For everything, every wish and hope and desire, there is a price to pay. And paying it is not for the squeamish.
So today, I am taking out the memory box that the hospital put together back on that sad day, November 30, 2007. And I will listen to those songs and feel those feels, and remember to be grateful that I was lucky enough to know, even for a short time, what it was like to be a mother in spirit. And that today, while I don’t have children of my own, I’ve embraced my caretaker role in my dog care business while I try to carve out a life as a writer. My husband is here with me, too, and a whole support system of loving friends and family who make every second of pain worthwhile.
What are your songs of pain? Do they inspire you and drive you forward? Or are they still angry ghosts for you? I hope you can befriend and embrace them someday. It’s a hard journey, but it’s worth it. Keep going, my loves. Keep. Fucking. Going.
Happy birthday, Jack. Mom and Dad miss you and love you.