In Her Time of Dying: Music

Over ten years ago when I realized that she was never going to get better, I distanced myself from my mother for my own emotional and mental health and well-being. When she lived in Illinois and I in Tennessee, our relationship was easier because that physical proximity wasn’t an issue. I didn’t have to worry about seeing her face-to-face. Her grasp and power over me was weaker. When we lived far apart, I’d answer her calls. I’d actually pick up the phone to call her and talk about what was going on in my life. I was always hesitant and kept a margin of emotional distance for fear of making myself vulnerable to her, but our relationship was much better.

When she moved to Tennessee and began living fifteen minutes away and the physical distance between us was significantly shortened, I had to make my emotional unavailability even more pronounced and defined. I let her in even less, being very careful to not let our relationship boundaries get blurred. She wasn’t ever really capable of keeping well-defined boundaries and I had to be mindful of that.

One thing that I didn’t hide, didn’t bury, didn’t keep from her was music. I rarely shared personal things with her but when it came to music I was always eager and willing. When she would come over, I would play my chorus learning tracks for her and watch her reaction, watch for signs that she was impressed with the difficulty of music I was performing. I wanted her approval in that area. I cared about her opinion in that aspect, where in other parts of my life I could not have cared less what she thought. But I always wanted to share music with her, and was always open and receptive if she made new musical discoveries.

The other day I listened to the title track Barton Hollow from The Civil Wars’ album. This album has been out for a year, but I am just now hearing about them. I’ve heard their name more and more since their performance at the Grammy’s and on a whim, I listened to Barton Hollow on iTunes.
After hearing about five seconds of it, I downloaded it and moved on to the next track’s preview. After about five seconds of the second song, I just went ahead and downloaded the entire album.

I listened to the whole thing on my way home from work that day, marveling at how each track was more beautiful than the last. The blend of the two singers’ voices, the haunting harmonies, and the lyrics almost brought me to tears. I haven’t felt this immediately enamoured with a musical group in a very long time. As I was driving and listening to the duo sing, I felt very sad because it was precisely the type of music I would’ve loved to share with my mother. I would’ve played a track for her, watching to see her reaction and hoping she loved it just as much as I did.

I’m not sure what it was about music that felt safe to me. I suppose I perceived it as somewhat of superficial thing that she and I could connect with; something that didn’t have to go deeper than surface-level. Music can, of course, touch one’s very heart and soul but it doesn’t have to in general conversation. You can have a pleasant and enthusiastic conversation with just about anyone about your favorite bands and music that you like. Maybe that’s why it felt okay to me – because I didn’t have to delve deep into the reasons behind my liking a certain sound or artist.

My grief for my mother has been twisty and confusing. I haven’t really ever felt sad that she was gone, because as my mother she had been gone for over a decade. I’ve been grieving more over what I will truly never have in regards to a relationship with her, reliving the traumatic events of the week that she was sick, and getting over the shock of the fundamental fact that the only mother I’ve ever known is now dead.

Despite all of the confusing emotions, I miss sharing music with her. I am sad that she isn’t around to hear these beautiful melodies. I’m sad that her time to discover and enjoy new artists is gone, that the harmonies that she held so dear don’t reach her ears anymore.

The song below is performed by The Civil Wars, but it was written by Leonard Cohen… Who just happened to be one of my mother’s favorite artists.