What do you want to remember? What do you wish you could forget?
I remember the day after our first child, our daughter, was born. He drove from Chicago to Indianapolis for a job interview. Fueled only by the thrill of now being a new daddy, he must have been so exhausted on that drive! (It was worth it, he got the job.) I was left alone, just me and her. She had a cry that I recognized, I called her Big Bird because she was the biggest baby in the nursery at almost 9 pounds and wore a light yellow stocking hat. The first song I sang to her was Wheels on the Bus. I wanted her to know my voice. That one song led to countless others, sung to keep her gaze, to lull her to sleep, to fill the air with a melody. I now want to remember all of the songs that I wrote for my kids in their first years. There were over twenty. I made up a song about a toy inch worm, a seahorse, and each of my kids had their own name song. I wrote down all of them at one point, but I can’t remember where I filed it! The melodies and lyrics fade in and fade out in my mind.
Music was a central part of Jon’s life. His eclectic music collection was never far from him. In the car, the iPod; at home, the stereo system. I remember that for every move we made, always the first thing to be unpacked and set up was the stereo. I swear a requirement of a house was a perfect place and space for those speakers! Once hooked up, our home would be filled with a heavy dose of U2, Annie Lennox or Bob Marley. If you think of an artist, it’s probably in his collection of cds or iTunes! Music connected him to his life: history with friends, places he lived, and with his own heartbeat. When we were dating, I think part of his wooing me was through sharing his music with me. He always wanted me to hear a new album or cd that he had found. Music was like having a third partner in our relationship: we hung out with friends and family, made yummy food in the kitchen, and we made love with music setting the perfect mood. Our kids grew up in a home filled with his music. Weekend mornings only got started when a playlist was clicked and the coffee was being made to go with it. I’m proud to say that both of our kids know classic tunes by Led Zeppelin and AC/DC.
I wish I could forget that Jon seemed to be searching for a cure to his cancer in his music. It held him together listening to his favorites. I could feel him concentrating very hard as if waiting to hear some message or jar some memory that would take it all away and restore him to full strength. As his mortality became more defined last June of 2016, with signs of his illness advancing, our third partner of music became more comforting to him than I could be. I want to forget my knowing there was nothing I could do to help him or soothe him, the fact was that his life was slipping away, and all I could do was bear witness. Music did not hold him the way I did, nor did it look into his eyes and see all the unspoken truths of our love. It could not physically touch him the way I did. But it gave him things I could not, and for that I was grateful. As he became smaller and his cancer became so large, the need for listening to his music waned. But I think he still heard his playlists in his mind, firmly rooted in a place cancer could not reach. The memory of all those songs echoes clearly in my mind, sometimes with a haunting sound like a car crash, sometimes it’s like the children’s songs I can’t quite seem to put my finger on.
This legacy of music that is left behind for us is precious. I know the songs that he loved best. I listen to his playlists. I have continued his love of music by making my own playlists. I laugh to myself when my teenagers are annoyed by me playing my music too loud or a song that I should be too old to listen to. “You should be listening to old people music!” they say. Fine, very well. Jon would be laughing at their protesting. I want them to remember and hear their Dad through the music he loved. I will remember his defiance over his disease, and I will forget that he lost against it by rather thinking he heard a calling that only he could hear.~Paula