Friday, July 17, 2015

Music and other inoculations

Music has always been a big part of my life. When I was a kid I played the flute and dabbled with cello, penny whistle, bodhran and guitar. I was never very good at any of them, but I loved being able to immerse myself in the melody and was fascinated by the mathematical precisions of reading music. When I was a bit older I took voice lessons and sang with an informal group for awhile. I was never very good, but I loved it. The sensation of my voice being at once individual and utterly lost in the harmony was exquisite.

Likewise, I've loved listening to music. My childhood grounding in classical music and jazz led to my teenaged rebellion of The Beatles, Mission of Burma, David Bowie, The Clash and more. Eventually I fell in love with singer-songwriters and then later world music. My home, and then my home with Kevin, was full of music.

When he got sick, Kevin found solace in his iPod. He would spend hours lying in his hospital bed, an eye-mask blocking out the light, his fingers tapping a rhythm on my shoulder or thigh as I sat beside him. The only way I knew he was awake was the tap-taptap of whatever he was heard. I couldn't listen to music. I desperately needed to stay alert and present for the next doctor or nurse, so I could bring him back from his refuge and he would feel safe when I was the one who touched him, not an impartial hand. I couldn't insulate myself from protecting him.

After he died I couldn't listen to music at all. It became a forbidden country. If NPR played a random song chances were good I would turn it off. I tried over and over to listen to the music that had comforted me but everything was associative. It only made me cry and I was already crying so much. It was so pervasive I eventually found myself turning away whenever music drifted near; in a store, when someone drove by with a song playing, when the soundtrack of a movie swelled.

I don't know if you have ever lost something you loved with every fiber of your being. It turns you inside out and you find yourself becoming someone you never would have imagined. I never imagined I would ever be someone without music, just as I never imagined I would ever be someone without Kevin.

About eight months ago, about eight months after he died, I found I could listen to classical music again. At first it was just Baroque chamber music where I could follow the mathematical patterns, but that spread to early choral music and finally I found myself again listening to the great Requia I love. I sobbed but it was different. I could remember the connection and not just loss. Maybe six months ago jazz returned. I can't yet listen to all the jazz we did, but it's coming back. About four months ago I was able to hear Hey Jude without getting sick and then I could hear some of the 80s alternative I loved in college. Singer songwriters, contemporary music and blues are coming back now though there is still danger. Eventually I may even be able to listen to world music, Motown, maybe even the songs he sang to me. Maybe.

What I am finding is that I am someone different now. I hear music differently, the images that come to mind are both more tender and less immediate. It's as though my gradual return to music has been an inoculation against the intense associations and pain. I have some immunity now. I suppose that's what learning to live with loss and deciding to live instead of merely exist means.

If I think of returning to myself as inoculation it becomes easier to return to some of the things I have loved. I can gradually return to the places we went, to the things we shared, in small motions. I don't have to dive in headfirst, which is perhaps more my nature. Small steps. A prick of the needle, a moment of pain, and I begin to be able to live a little more fully, no longer needing to protect myself from the risk of memory. I've been doing this all along, from the moment I realized I wasn't going to follow him to the grave; now I might have a soundtrack to keep me company.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

1 comment:

  1. Been there to some level, not as intense as yours, but there were songs I could not listen to, and some bands I have stayed away from. The loud crashing music I found very hard to get back into as it brought with it anger!
    Another great Packer Piece, wonderfully thoughtful


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