Two months ago, my dad died. The experience of losing him was slow and gradual, because he had Alzheimer's Disease. It was also quick, because the difference between near-death and actual death turns out to be pretty sudden and profound. But above all, my dad's death felt magical to me, because loving my dad was always a magical experience, from the time I was tiny and he was creating birthday magic shows, Halloween haunted houses, treasure hunts to the town dump and movies starring us kids, until the very late stages of his life with this challenging disease when he was asking me deep and caring questions about my view of the world. His death felt magical because it ended with singing. My mom, sister, brother and I all held hands around his bedside and sang "Dona Nobes Pacem" ("Bring Us Peace") - a favorite round in my family - in his final hours. What follows is one song about my dad and mom, in honor of National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, and two others to round out the story of my dad and my family's journey with Alzheimer's.
TOPIC: An "Alzheimer's Waltz" for Love and Life
Celebrating a Life and Partnership
Rita lost her husband and long-time life-partner (and dance-partner) Dick, this past January. To commemorate his life and celebrate their relationship, she came up with a truly original idea: Why not commission a song that could be choreographed, so that she could dance to it, at his memorial service, as a way of celebrating his life and honoring their life-long love of dancing!
I thought this was an incredibly brave undertaking on her part. I listened carefully as she told me all about
TOPIC: A Father Dies of Lou Gehrig's Disease and Leaves Behind a Song for his Daughter
A Fond Farewell From A Father "Locked In" With ALS
This month's Song and Story are dedicated to the sweet, inspiring life of Alexander Haws, 2003-2007.
TOPIC: A little boy in the final stages of cancer
For this month's song, I have been racing against the ticking clock of cancer. And while I have been doing so, a whole town in western New York has been rallying around one dear little boy.
Alex Haws died of a rare form of liver cancer on Wednesday, October 24 at 4:15 PM.
The write-up below was written and ready to publish earier that same day, and I have opted to leave it in its original form, written when Alex was still alive.
A brother who has died, and a sister who lives on, CONNECT...through song!
TOPIC: Connecting with a family member who has died
Lisa's brother Steve died unexpectedly at the age of 36. In attending to her grief she did two astonishing things--one which made the papers in St. Louis where she lives, and one which helped her grieving father to finally cry with her. I want to tell you briefly about both of those things, because it will give you an idea of what an inspired and inspiring person Lisa is, and it will provide the back-story out of which this month's featured song, The Connection, grew. When Lisa's brother Steve died, he left behind a life-dream of refinishing, to very exact plans, a once-fine, run-down house he had purchased many years earlier, in downtown St. Louis. He died before he was able to raise the funds for his vision. Lisa transformed her grief into a miracle, gathering the funds and completing the house, along with her extended family, as a labor of love. As the project came to completion, she had a second transformative idea when she learned about what I do: She commissioned a song for Father's Day, for her dad, in the voice of Steve. Steve and his dad had not had an easy relationship, and when Lisa shared that song, which was called Regained, with her dad, father and daughter were able to cry together for the first time since Steve's death. (That song, incidentally, was featured on the Brave Records website in May of last year for Father's Day and created a phenomenal spike in their website visits as people across the country and around the world shared the song on Fathers Day.)
TOPIC: Last Days of Life
A Mother on her Deathbed Says Goodbye to a Loyal Son
Jen commissioned me to write this song as a gift for her husband Tony in the days leading up to his mother's death. Jen's goal was to honor Tony's mom and to create a focal opportunity for Tony to grieve, when the time came. In an unexpected twist, Tony’s mother died after I had sent Jen a rough cassette of the song and before I had recorded it in the studio. So Jen, a singer herself, got her father to quickly learn a guitar part, and he accompanied Jen while she sang this song, live, at Tony’s mom’s memorial service. A few weeks later, the finished studio version arrived, and provided a powerful and timely opportunity for Jen and Tony to grieve together…
A Mother Copes with the Loss of Her Unborn Baby
I get invited along on some pretty intense journeys with commissioned songwriting. This one took me to a place few people even talk about beyond the boundaries of quiet whispers and private family conversations. Jen came to me two years ago asking for a song to help her heal. She and her husband Dan had one child and were in the process of trying to conceive another. But they had been beset by a painful miscarriage which seemed both to stand in the way of Jen's moving forward toward conception again, and, too, of Jen's ability to feel the support of Dan. Jen brought her journals and the one book I have ever seen containing poetry about miscarriage to the song-interview. It was at that point that it hit me how very "unspoken" this kind of loss can be in our culture. She described to me the circumstances of her miscarriage, the shock, the sadness, the confusion, the doubt. And then she told me of how she had made the decision to plant some flowers--called daphnes--in her garden as a way of commemorating the life that was lost. I was particularly struck by the image of a flower rising up each year come spring, and that image became a central piece of the song.
TOPIC: "In the voice of" mother to son
TOPIC: ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and LOVE
A Father With ALS Offers Up a Song to Leave Behind for his Daughter
A SONG WIH A LIFE OF ITS OWN
WOW! This month's featured commission is one of those rare and wonderful stories where a song takes on a vector and velocity that far exceeds anything I could have wished or imagined for it! The heart of this story is Andy and his daughter Rachel. But the fireworks around the song are really quite incredible! To wit: as I write this, I am days away from performing this song, in a private concert, for the entire Board of Directors of The ALS Association. And I am just two weeks away from being flown to Washington DC (being put up at the Plaza!) to perform this song before a crowd of upwards of a thousand people at the ALS Association's National Public Policy Conference. The evening's agenda? Two US Senators receiving awards and...little old ME! But the heart of this story is not about private concerts or Boards of Directors or Senators or crowds of thousands. The heart of this story is Andy, and ALS, a strikingly debilitating disease, and Rachel, Andy's teenaged daughter, and love. Love is definitely the star of the show. Read on to learn just how much heart there is in this story. And see to what far and fantastic corners, when it is deep and real, love can reach.
(Brace yourself--this write-up is an extensive one, whch perhaps underscores how much this experience has touched me.)
TOPIC: Memorializing young Wyatt's life & legacy
Song of the Month