Thursday, January 13, 2011

The music is back, but the rhythm has changed

My Briefing column from today (also available here):

A silence has been broken in our home. For the first time in two years, music's playing in the kitchen.

When Steve was alive and healthy, there was almost always music playing in the evenings. He was the self-designated dish washer, eager to create order from the mess we'd make preparing and eating dinner.

He would plug his iPod into a little speaker next to the sink, press play and get busy.

He wasn't exactly efficient. He would wash a little, sing a little, rinse a little, dance a little. I could have washed twice as many dishes in the same amount of time.

But he had fun, and his happiness was infectious

The music would stay on long after the last dish was rinsed. His iPod's random playlist (M.I.A. to Coldplay to Lucinda William) was the soundtrack to our everyday nights of bathing children, folding laundry, reading books and e-mail, discussing the hours before and planning the hours ahead.

For the first year after Steve was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, he continued to wash dishes. This time even more slowly, sometimes with breaks for sitting instead of dancing. But still with songs in the background and contagious joy in his heart.

The second year – as much as he had of it – was rough. He lost his ability to stand well or walk well and eventually to sit up at all. He reluctantly gave up washing dishes and the few other chores he'd proudly continued despite his condition.

When he stopped standing at the sink every night, the music stopped, too.

I don't think the silence was deliberate, though it certainly was symbolic. Our home took on a quiet stillness when Steve's condition became so obviously irreversible.

Our new soundtrack was the steady hum of an oxygen compressor.

In the early morning of Sept. 7, 2009, even that rhythm ended. The machine was turned off after Steve's final breath.

Since then, music has been spotty at best. Most of it is provided by Cooper and Katie, who both love to sing a cappella and have recently started piano lessons.

Very little came from me. For months I couldn't even look at Steve's iPod, much less think of turning it on. The most unsuspecting songs – from the likes of the Beastie Boys and Jane's Addiction and ZZ Top – would remind me of Steve singing in the car, singing in the shower, singing and dancing in the kitchen.

To celebrate our first Father's Day without him, I did compile two CDs of some of his favorite music – baby steps in my grief journey. We occasionally listen to his music in the car, and I tell Cooper and Katie why I selected each song – because it was a favorite his senior year in high school or was from the obscure indie band he loved in college or was his top pick from our shared favorite album.

Still, inside the house, the soundtrack has been mostly talking. Laughing. Intermittent crying.

Until last week, when I took yet another baby step in my circuitous grief path and started playing music in the kitchen – not from Steve's iPod but from mine.

I'm controlling how much I can handle. We're listening to a mix of some Steve songs, some beloved children's songs and even a few I've discovered since Steve's death. (Those are often the most difficult, symbolic of time moving on without him right here.)

I'm still avoiding some from our concerts and road trips together. It may be years before I can listen to a single note from "Was There Life," the song we danced to at our wedding and that Steve serenaded me with over our 15 years of marriage.

But there's music nonetheless.

I didn't make a grand pronouncement that first night, when I pushed play and let some music into the kitchen.

And yet when Cooper walked into the room and heard a few notes, he stopped, smiled and declared, "Now, this feels like family."

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. E-mail her at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have followed you for a while. I am a music lover and can connect with this story. I am glad you are finding the music in life again but I appreciate how difficult it must be. Steve would want you to have music in your life and in your heart again. Baby steps is all it takes and when the music takes you back let it be only happy thoughts you see and love you feel.