The Ginger Gent
Singing Out! For My Son
My grief goes everywhere with me because it is me. No one can move forward without releasing it in the day-to-day activities, moving through the practicalities of life because if we didn’t we wouldn’t move at all. The one place it has suddenly jumped up to speak its presence is in choir. There are a number of ways I have sought out a new life in a creative, joyful environment. Singing Out Toronto’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Community Chorus is one of these places. Music opens me energetically, clears me and grounds me, whatever terminology you want to use. Being on the stage again for the first time since university is a life affirming rush for me.
However in the throes of my celebration, sorrow revisits me. The first year I joined, the choir sung a number of songs for their holiday concert, one being Calling All Angels (click link to see performance). The first time we rehearsed it I could barely open my mouth to add my voice to the gathering of people around me. As we continued to work, the massive lump in my throat and a flood of tears sent me straight to the washroom a number of times. When I spoke to Jody Malone, our choir director, she assured me that everything would be fine and if I still had difficulty she wouldn’t put me front row.
That alleviated my stress a lot and I set forward to desensitize myself, which is not an easy thing to do when you are singing lyrics like “calling on angels, calling on angels, walk through this one, don’t leave me alone.” It was hard becoming a young widow but it was even harder becoming a widow who was also a single parent. When I bought this plaque I didn’t understand why it was significant and now I look at it and kind of get the chills. It seems I have been surrounded by feathered wings of support for quite some time, and with our next holiday concert on Saturday December 6th Closer to the Flame (click here to purchase tickets online) only six days away, I know I am drawing on the same uplifting source of Music.
This semester I was introduced to Lullaby by Billy Joel. I have the track on loop at home. The concert is in a week and I have just managed to make it through without the stream the tears. Just like the books I read to my son about loss and grief, music has the power to tap into the most powerful emotions. “Lullaby| is a parent trying to explain death to their child. As a parent who has lost a spouse I have not been able to make my mouth sing the words “someday your child may cry, and if you sing this lullaby, then in your heart will always be a part of me….” It has awakened something inside me, an understanding of my own fears.
As someone who has also lost a parent, it terrifies me to know that the same fears may be visited upon my child. The Menace lost his Mama when he was 19 months and we have already begun to talk about death, and in this three year old way he is already counting loss with pain. I have books for him likem “Wherever you Are My Love Will Find You” by Nancy Tillman, and “Lifetimes” by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen, but “Lullaby” is for me. To face that I must have these conversations with him as gently and honestly as I can so he can being to learn to cope with loss throughout his life.
Billy Joel was right, music is one of those things that transcend death. Given my deeply personal relationship with What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, played at my father’s funeral, I understand this. Coming to terms with this song has been deeply profound and painful. For a long time it made me run from the room when it played randomly on the radio on those days that you both feared and ached to hear it. I knew however there were a number of things that I had made peace with when I was able to sing that song to my son. As Joel said, “I promised I would never leave you, and you should always know wherever you may go, no matter where you are, I will never be far away.”
This is exactly the way I feel when I listen to Melissa Etheridge’s Sleep While I Drive, played at Kara’s funeral and Come Away with Me by Norah Jones, our wedding song. The words get into me and rip me apart, yet I hold fast to them just as fiercely as the damage that is being done. That is grief. That is holding onto something so hurtful because it is a visceral link to that person. In a way I think we hold those things because they are so important. When we are able to come to terms with them, we reclaim this importance, this joy and comfort associated with a song, as well as a way to move into acceptance. It is a kind of peace not just with music that connects us, but peace with the death of our loved one itself.
I have relied on my relationship with music to help me process grief. Just as I know I need to let my son see me grieve. I must also let him hear me sing. The thing I have recently come to realize is that I need to give him the tools. When I choke on words like “I’m not going anywhere” or “I will never leave you”, it feels like a lie. However what isn’t a lie is the absolute necessity to allow him to feel safe. This experience is the only thing that allows us as people to develop the tools to cope with loss and adversity late in life. That is what I can give him, so he will learn the importance of music, and how it connects us with our thoughts, feelings and struggles.
I am setting out to stand up on that stage on Saturday December 6, 2014 and acknowledge the part of me that will always be with my son. Not just to create another way to talk to my son about death, but also to sing about it. Please visit the link below to purchase tickets including our new rate for children under 12.
Date: Saturday December 6th 2014
Times: Matinee 3pm Evening 7:30pm
Location: Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts
Address: 27 Front Street East, Toronto
Cost: General Admission $27.00 or children under 12 $17
Resources for Children About Death
“Wherever you Are My Love Will Find You” by Nancy Tillman, Feiwel and Friends Book. (New York. 2010). 2 plus range
“Lifetimes; The beautify way to explain death to children” by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen.(Bantam Books, Toronto and New York, 1983) 5 plus
“I Miss You: A First look at Death” by Pat Thomas Barrons. (New York, 2000.) 4 plus
About the Author
Kelly Wilk is a freelance writer and single mom to a seven-year-old, red-headed, Irish, Aries boy who is growing up way too fast. Follow them on PinkPlayMags' parenting blog "The Ginger Gent" (www.pinkplaymags.com). Also, find Kelly on her own website and blog, Brave. Creative. Me at www.kellywilk.ca.