Since my daughter Jeannine’s death in 2003, the music of Tom Petty, The Counting Crows, The Wallflowers, Rush, Sting and Jackson Browne have allowed me to sit with the many emotions of grief and have provided clarity and created awareness, in the aftermath of her death.
There were many times that my daughter signaled her presence to me through the music that we shared. One memorable experience, was during her eighth angelversary date on March 1, 2011. That morning I spent some quiet time inviting Jeannine into my sacred space and sharing my gratitude for the relationship that we shared (and continue to share today) and the teachings that she revealed to me about life and death. I burned some incense and shuffled a playlist of songs that I had created for my iPod, prior to the 1st of March. The first two songs that came on were by The Gin Blossoms and The Goo Goo Dolls. The first concert that Jeannine and I went to was at the New York State Fair when she was thirteen. The Goo Goo Dolls were the opening act for the Gin Blossoms.
A while ago, I added an album to my Spotify play list titled Born to Fly. The recording artist, Sara Evans, was another one of my daughter’s favorite recording artists.
With any music that inevitably strengthens the eternal bond with my daughter, I pay close attention to song lyrics that either promote further reflection and/or has something more to reveal about loss :
Cause when we’re torn apart
Shattered and scarred
Love has the grace to save us
This passage from a song on Sara Evans’ Born to Fly album, called Saints and Angels , precipitated a return to early grief following Jeannine’s death.
In early grief, reflecting on my past with Jeannine led to intense emotional pain because of her physical absence in the present, and because of a future that I could not envision without her.
I was definitely torn apart after my daughter’s death. The rules that helped make my world safe, orderly and predictable were shattered into millions and millions of little pieces.
Today, a return to the early days of grief does not have the same effect. I have learned that, if we let it, our past can be a rich source of information for us in the present. Looking back allows us to retrace our steps and conceptualize the progress made after life-altering loss. Our past is undeniably a part of who we have become in the present, and its influence can’t be denied. Revisiting our pain in early grief serves as a wise mentor, if only to remind us that we were resilient enough to survive it.
The scars that I have developed as a result of the challenges with my daughter’s death are not visible to the naked eye, but are a reminder that, if we live long enough, tragedy will, at some point, become us. We can choose to let tragedy overwhelm us, or we can choose to rise above it .
As Saints and Angels suggests, love has the grace to save us. I believe that this is unequivocally true following the death of a loved one. What has saved me is rediscovering those loving parts of myself that became hidden or otherwise unexpressed in the immediate aftermath of Jeannine’s death.
In order to begin to love ourselves again, we must be gentle with ourselves .
Being gentle with ourselves after loss is an ongoing challenge because of, among other things: 1) Guilt about what we believed we should have done to prevent our loved one’s death. and 2) Regret over things that were left unsaid, or perhaps were not said. Once we release what no longer serves us, we can begin the work of self-love. The unconditional love that we give ourselves, morphs into gentleness , kindness and unconditional love towards those who walk the same or similar paths after life-altering loss. We not only become invested in ourselves, but in humanity as well. We become a part of something greater than ourselves.
I believe that when we embrace love and tenderness for ourselves and others, our passion for service, and life returns, and our loved ones legacies live on for eternity.