Losing My Voice

Grief does weird things to a person.

You don’t exactly know the when or the where, but you know to take this visitor at its word, when it says it will drop by. Right after my dad’s funeral, people kindly sent emails, texts and phone calls. In the void and silence not to be filled, each word felt like a buoy to anchor me from the weightlessness that threatened to carry me deep into the sky. What is it about that levity that drains time of its usual punctuality, letting present ebb into future and blurring the lines of the past? Except for the event itself, when each detail can be recalled with rote precision.

Some of my earliest memories of my dad bring to mind two voices singing in unison. My starbird voice trilling in that high pitch special to children. His bass would carry the bottom like a firm foundation upon which the house could be built. He would take me out “driving” on his lap- hands latched onto the wheel, steering our way straight from the veering and careening he would do, I thought, so he could see Mama’s face contort into that of an irritated mime. In choir, his deep sonorous bass distinctively stood out from the lighter sopranos, mezzos, baritones and tenors. At one point in time, I equally spoke into existence my intention to be opera singer and fashion designer. My parents taught me to dream big and I did not disappoint.

I started really singing in church. Like Axl Rose. Like MC Hammer and probably scores of other singers. During high school, I auditioned for a youth singing group and made it in, though my point of pride settled on me being the only female rapper one year for choir tour. I wove the words around one another in rhythmic time and felt myself all the more impressive because of my cap worn backwards. Ah, youth. It’s no surprise really that my best friend is an opera singer and I casually took up karaoke.

The week my Dad died, I emailed Karl, our church music director, explaining I would not be able to sing with the church band, that I was in Texas, that my Dad had unexpectedly died. This was soon followed with a conversation that included the words “hiatus” and “not sure when”. Three months bled into six that later became eight and finally almost a year. I couldn’t get up the gumption to sing- it was like the song had been stolen from my mouth.

Months after his death, I would find myself alone in church, wearing a hat, feeling the part of the walking wounded. It didn’t take much to be bowled over emotionally- from the turn of a lyric, the chord progression, the violin playing pizzicato. And that surge of sorrow swept over me anew. There is nothing more mortifying than weeping in a crowd full of singers or trying to unsuccessfully stifle the growing storm. There is also nothing more humanizing. I would catapult myself out onto the street where the austere sun would shine its cold rays of sunlight upon me. The ambient street noises muffled against the backdrop of this particular kind of loneliness.

I say this because it needs to be said.

Last year, I learned a specific way to take care of myself- that it’s okay to seek out solitude and crave it greedily. It’s okay to sob because a silhouette on the street resembles that person. It’s okay to be embraced and sat with and prayed for and cooked for because sometimes your body wants you to stop and take heed.

Then Easter changed everything.

It did not bring back my Dad. It’s hard to explain in words really. It did remove some of the burden of the loss and the lungs that had felt unsturdy weeks prior began to feel stronger. I emailed Karl and said I thought I might be ready. Perhaps I could try and sing again? In his kind, gentle way, Karl told me there was no pressure. I could practice with the band and if I didn’t feel up to it, I didn’t have to stay and sing.

SINGING- Losing My Voice

The lights blazed on our faces. The microphone blared until the sound was equalized. My nightmare of crumpling emotionally on the platform during a song went unfounded. And something about losing myself in the harmonies strung around the melody, around the guitar rhythms, the hand-tapped drum beats on my thigh somehow brought my Dad closer. Music- the very thing that had for months felt too painful and too approximate to the forging and physical extinguishing of our relationship, now became sealant and mender.

I stopped singing for a year because it felt like the right thing to do and because I had no choice. My body began telling me how to interpret “take care of yourself” and once I started listening to my body, I began to find my voice again.

Comments

    • Leave a Reply

      Anneliesz
      June 2, 2011

      It’s the one story you know the ending to except not when you’re in it. You catch all the hints, the subtle inclinations and even the gut reactions in queue or too late. Thanks Susan for sharing your story with me and for delving into mine.

  1. Leave a Reply

    Olga
    June 4, 2011

    Music is so very powerful, and singing is altogether a different creature on top of that. Oh my friend, thank you for sharing.
    One of the hardest things I ever had to do was sing a performance of “I dreamed a dream” a month after Katie died. I had an amazing set of co-singers, though, who were so very supportive during that “the show must go on” moment. But for the Grace of God did that happen…
    love you, my dear!! 🙂

  2. Leave a Reply

    Anneliesz
    June 4, 2011

    I can only imagine. Given that I’m not a professional singer like you, that “show must go on” esprit must be a challenge but glad to hear it was lessened by your co-singers. Thx Olga.

  3. Leave a Reply

    Blair Kilpatrick
    December 6, 2012

    Very beautiful! It reminded me of my experience when my father died, more than twenty years ago. I had recently discovered music (the Cajun accordion) but the desire to play simply disappeared. After a few weeks, I was forced back into playing by my nine-year-old son. “Mom, you need to play some music,” he said. Then he took my accordion out of the case and put it in my lap. “Play.” I had no choice. For me, and my kids, it was the right choice, a sign that we would also survive this sudden loss. (The boy became a musician, of course 🙂

    Love the blog!

  1. Chocolate Mint Trifle - […] full life is to experience the range of human emotion… and the experiences that can elicit them. Grief colored…

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