June 2017

Math isn’t my strongest skill set. However, I can solve this equation: The second half of 2016 ÷ 3 deaths + 4 funerals in 4 months = agony.

You may doubt my addition, but I assure you it is accurate. My mother died in August. She lived in New York, but grew up in Georgia. In October, we had a service in each location. Then my best friend’s husband died in November. A month later, my brother-in-law died. One gentleman had been living with Alzheimers, the other with cancer. Their deaths caused great sadness, but weren’t exactly surprising. My mother’s death, on the other hand, was a complete shock. We thought she was recuperating from pneumonia, but she had cancer. It was the three-week version of “here one day, gone the next”.

One of the clergy members from my mother’s church said to me, “Some deaths leave us emotionally cratered and force us to reorganize our lives.” It was and still is the best description of how I feel.

My mother was an accomplished pianist who loved all kinds of music. Broadway, opera, pop, jazz, classical and country filled our homes and punctuated our memories. When I got my first iPod, I immediately began buying songs from long gone LPs. One day, I realized that I was recreating the music of my life from childhood to college. I called Norma, not only to share the humor of my revelation, but also to hear her voice. After almost 40 years of living in New York, her voice still contained the lilt and cadence of her southern roots. Until Norma’s death, I didn’t realize her voice was another soundtrack to my life or that it was literally music to my ears, especially the way she ended conversations. “Bye, bye, darling. Love you.”

Music used to live in my home and I used to stay informed about current events. However, after Norma died, music became torture, not solace. Headlines and commentaries became unendurable. So I quit listening to music and unplugged from all news sources. I didn’t completely isolate myself, but I became much more selective about the company I kept.

I chose golden silence, but now I think it is multicolored. I’ve discovered that silence contains layers of sound. When you stop listening to some layers, you hear others. The T.V. and radio are off. My laptop is mute, but my dog’s claws click on the floor, air conditioning hums, the dishwasher gushes and the oven beeps. Outside, birds sing, car horns blow, children yell and trees stir. My own biology speaks. A sigh, a cough, a sneeze, a gurgling stomach and popping joints.

Grief is a strange journey. It’s impossible to know in advance which days will be like wading through a tidal pool or a tidal wave, but I understand this equation: Silence + gradual layers of sound = healing.

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