Music in life’s dark moments

The wonderful thing about music is that it immediately evokes certain eras of one’s life, brings you back to where you’ve been… Donna de Matteo

I have a journal, a gift from students in a class I taught one summer, that contains inspirational quotes on every other page. It’s the journal I’ve been using these past few months; the quotes, readers may have noticed, have appeared in some of my posts. This one about music particularly resonates with me. Music was so much a part of our family life when I was growing up. We had sing-alongs around the piano. My sister Theresa played the tunes, my brother John called out the words and we sang. Lots of folk tunes and Woody Guthrie songs. We sang popular ballads too (my sister could play by ear).

Like everyone else I have experienced joy and sorrow in my life. Within the space of only 12 months in 1996-97 my father-in-law, two of my brothers, one of my sisters and her husband died. The following year another sister died. It was hellish. It was brutal. It was horrible. Some friends, overwhelmed I suppose by the sheer enormity of the thing, stopped calling. I forgive them. They didn’t know what to say. My sister Mary was even called in to HR to explain why she needed so many bereavement days! People just didn’t know what to do with us.

1996-97 was a long time ago. There are some who say that by now we should be “over” our grief. It’s not the same pain as it was, but it’s still there. One never “gets over” losing a loved one. Just a few months ago I was driving somewhere listening to NPR. A story about Woody Guthrie was being broadcast and I heard his voice singing, “This Land Is Your Land.” I began to sob and had to pull over to the side of the road to get control of myself. The family memories—Jo-Ann laughing at the line “On the other side, it didn’t say nothin’” and Mary and I trying to harmonize—came to me so clear.

In Wagner’s Der Walkure, the second of the operas of the ring cycle, Woton and Brunhilde sing a final duet before he imprisons her behind a wall of fire, never to see her again. The music lifts me whenever I hear it. I can’t breathe for the beauty of the aria and the emotion of the father/daughter bond torn asunder. It’s a joyful sadness—joy in the beauty and sadness in the circumstance. Grief is like that—beauty in the memory combined with longing for what can never be.

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Indulge me with one more quote; this one from a book I just finished reading, The Year Before the War by Helen Simonson.

“I shall stand in the rain…” said Daniel.

“How do you know it will rain?” asked Hugh.

“God would not be so cruel as to taunt us with sunshine. Grief begs for dark skies.”



8 thoughts on “Music in life’s dark moments

  1. Beautiful piece, Diane. Heartfelt, honest, and sincere. I think this piece will help so many of us – we never really stop grieving, but just learn to live with our grief. Yes, you speak the truth. And although we are different somehow, we are better human beings when we know how to cry, how to miss someone, to love someone even when he/she is gone. You opened by talking about revisiting your journal, your noticings – particularly about music. You close with Wagner’s opera. A perfect bookend. I wonder if this was something you planned or it just spilled out of you that way?


  2. Diane, I read a poem the other day that had the line, “the leviathan of grief.” Deep, monstrous, mysterious. I like how you include the solace of memory in your description. And music! Like Nietzche said, “all art aspires to the condition of music.” What would we do without it? Thank God we don’t have to answer.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Diane – I too wrote about the power of music today. Those moments that take you at of nowhere are hard. I had one this Sunday on Mother’s Day. I thought I was all set and then it hit me that I no longer had a mother. Death is so final and grieving truly is a process. Thank you for sharing your memories and reminding us to embrace the process.

    Liked by 1 person

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