How Music Healed My Soul
Every year for my birthday or Christmas my father would give me a new album. As the years went on it became my favourite present and every year, though I never told him, this was the gift I was most excited about. These albums seemed to speak more and more to me and as the years progressed, I gave music back to him. It became like an unspoken conversation we were having. My father and I had a complex relationship at times but towards my early adulthood we reached a peaceful plateau of acceptance, love and quiet understanding.
I don’t remember when I fell in love with Jazz but I think it began with the music of Ella,Kay, Frank, Louis and Billie all filling me with the lure of the romanticised 50’s, and I just fell in love. This was just the beginning of my love of music and exploration of Jazz amongst other styles.
One of my fondest and dearest memories of my father was when I moved back to live with him for a year in my late 20s. My life was busy and I was frequently out but I would often come home and hear the sound of Jazz and find my father sitting in his favourite chair with a glass of red wine in his hand just listening to music. The lights would be low and the fire on. He would just sit there absorbing the music, doing nothing else apart from sipping on his glass of Merlot. I love this image. He would always seem so happy at these moments and even though he’d ask me about my evening he would often interject with an excited “listen to that trumpet” or something along those lines.
My father died unexpectedly when I was 29 which was a shocking, life shattering experience especially as I was living with him and sadly was the one who found him. After he died I was clearing through his possessions and his stacks and stacks of music. As I began to sort them I rationally thought I should listen to them in case I wanted to keep any. There were tons I had never heard of. As I began to listen to each album I suddenly realized it was like that unspoken conversation had never ended. I laughed as I found albums he had that I had and delighted in discovering new ones. I savoured listening to every one, as if I was drawing out the conversation, and it lasted several years. I then would go back to albums years later and it was as if the conversation was there all over again and I would feel that deep comfort again. It was as if the music somehow bridged the gap, brought comfort to my loss and some healing to my heart.
My father died in the August and my birthday was only two months before that so I had firmly in my clutches his recent musical gift. This was one gift that both surprised me, moved me and was my favourite of them all. The first tape (yes cassette tape!) I ever had was one of my fathers, I don’t know how or when he gave it to me but it was an album by Helen Reddy. I played it to death and I remember listening to it on family holidays on my Walkman (yes Walkman!) I had not listened to it for years as it was only on tape and though it wasn’t my music taste it had deep nostalgic meaning. I had forgotten that in passing I told my Dad some time before that I’d love to get the album so I could listen to it again. Well on my last birthday with him I opened up my gift and to my surprise I saw this exact album on CD. After his passing this gift felt even more meaningfully, special and valued.
When someone dies, we can be filled with regrets. Things we wish we’d said or not said but strangely apart from the wishing we’d spent more time together there were only two things I wished I’d done. 1. Learnt to make his pork stir fry (now more or less vegan I’m less bothered!) and 2. Go to see more music with him. Clearing through my Dad’s possessions I also found tons of old music programs of musicians he’d been to see. There were all the big names and there was a list he had made. Why didn’t I know this? Why when I mentioned certain musicians did he not say “I saw them perform!”?
My love of Jazz (and since his death my love of red wine!) has deepened. So when Jez and I planned to visit the home of Jazz, New Orleans, on our USA road trip in November I was beyond excited. As we sat in the famous clubs of Fritzels, The Jazz Playhouse, Tipetina’s and Preservation Hall I felt this deep deep connection and overwhelming joy. It was as if my father was sat right there with me, right next to me with a glass of red wine in his hand, tapping his foot and grinning from ear to ear….apart from this time it was me sitting, drinking, tapping and grinning. We wandered around the city and I imagined what he would have thought or said but the whole time all I could do was see him smiling and that filled me with immense joy. It was as if my soul was healed a little more and the gulf, left by his absence, was a little smaller.
Sometimes when people die, whatever the circumstances, we can want to avoid reminders of them or no longer find the same pleasure from that thing we once did. But if we can remember and focus on the deep joy, happiness and delight it gave that person, or ourselves when we were with them, then it can be like the conversation never ends and we can return to it again and again whenever we feel we need or want. It can feel like in that moment, that hour, that day they are still there; still alive, still grinning, with a glass of wine tapping their foot…..
My Dad with his glass of red wine
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