Friday, November 25, 2011

Holidays, Grief and Loss

I tried to write a post this week on things I am grateful for this year, but I couldn’t do it. It is not that I don’t have anything to be grateful for, I do. I just couldn’t do it, as the grief that I thought was under control came back and smothered me once again.

The past four years I have spent nearly every holiday at the nursing home where my mother resided. It was a two hour drive, sometimes through nasty Minnesota weather. I made that trip because when my mother was admitted, I vowed that she would not spend a holiday alone. It was part of a larger promise I made to my dad on his last day. I don’t know if he heard me, but I told him he could go. I would take care of mom.

The food at the nursing home was good, but it was hard to watch my mother just push the food around on her plate, taking only occasional nibbles. We were almost always the last ones there. Mom and I had always lingered over meals. Years ago, the kitchen at the farm was the place to be. She and I had many long conversations over coffee after breakfast. Sometimes the dishes weren’t cleared until we realized it was time to make lunch. But, the nursing home was different. The conversations were usually me encouraging her to eat, something. It usually was dessert. But mostly, it was silent.

I missed those conversations we had at her kitchen table. Mom had always kept up with current events and although we did not agree on many things, we could always talk. I always called her when I had good news or when I needed some support. I think that was the hardest thing to deal with after she started to decline. I lost a huge part of my support system and I have not yet recovered it.

In previous years, I paid close attention to the weather in preparation for any holiday. Last Thanksgiving we had a huge storm Thanksgiving Day. I avoided it by driving down a day early and staying two nights instead of one. This year the weather was beautiful, but I had no place to go.

Mom died four months ago. I knew the holidays would be hard, made even more difficult because her birthday was December 18th, a week before Christmas. I tried to prepare myself for this. Tried to become emotionally stronger, but I still found myself sinking into the despair of grief. I denied it. I fought it. But, I lost the battle. I find myself back in that empty place, grieving my mother.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Gift of Song – from Jennifer Haase

It was as if the music demanded my attention, first subtly and then more overtly. I stopped the game I was playing and listened…

The music to which I am referring is the newest CD from “indie” singer/songwriter Jennifer Haase, “No More Invitations.” I started playing it late one night, when I should have been going to sleep. But, sleep was proving to be elusive, so I started playing mahjong online and put the CD that I had just gotten in the mail on as background. However, it wouldn’t stay in the background. Together the music, the lyrics and the compelling voice came together for a wonderful distraction. At the last note of the final song, I found that I did not want it to end. So I played the whole CD again.

I have never been a casual listener of music. While I can appreciate a nice tune with nonsensical lyrics, I love a song that truly says something. When the words reveal a deeper meaning and are layered just so between the notes, I am transported much in the same way as when I read a good book.

At first listen, I did not find a weak song on the entire CD. Jennifer Haase’s voice and the deliberate way she sings show a maturity from her first CD, “Listening Chair.” Each song seemed to evoke an emotion that we all can relate to in our own way. From the sad and mournful “Oneonta” to the tastefully, seductive love songs: “Beautiful Man” and “As the Record Spins,” Haase delivers a universal message that we all can relate to and it becomes our own.

I should also note that “Oneonta” contains a special treat featuring background vocals from Rosanne Cash. Although I hesitate to compare Haase’s music to any particular singer, I do hear the influence of Rosanne Cash in the lyrics and the ability to create a mood as a poet would, using only words. Without the music, the words could and do stand alone.

However, when done right, the music can take the words to a completely different level. I found this effect most strongly in the song, “All Out of Try.” The music represents a mask, a “la la la” everything is ok on the surface attitude. But, the words reveal a life kept secret from others, particularly in the chorus.

“I’m sorry, it’s your party

But both of us will shatter

If I am why you start to cry

And although I can’t be your candy

I’ll sugarcoat my story

And repress the reasons why

Because I’m all out of try”

All Out of Try by Jennifer Haase by JenniferHaaseMusic

Writing a review of a CD is not something I would normally do. It is in fact only the second review of any kind that I have done in the 6 years I have been writing online. The first was for an indie writer. I did it because I have tremendous respect for those who are gifted with talent and the determination to develop it, those who have the courage to follow their passion. Jennifer Haase is an example for all of us who still believe in the possibility of our dreams. But, talent alone is not enough. As an independent musician, Jennifer Haase is doing it alone, without the benefit of a record company to help promote and market her music. When I received the CD it arrived in a simple package, the address labels handwritten by Haase herself. I teased her on Twitter telling her I was going to keep the package so that someday I could say, “I knew her when…”

I am known by my friends and family as someone who shares music that I love, and I do love this particular CD. But, instead of burning CD’s to share, I am purchasing copies to give as gifts. It is my way of supporting the dreams and talent of a truly special singer who is also becoming a great online friend.

It is at times like this where I wish this blog were more well-read. It is new and mainly a personal one, read mostly by friends. So I asking my friends who do read it to help me support Jennifer Haase by buying the CD and hey, tell your friends about it. If I have not convinced you in this post, you can check out the music yourself on her website, Rhymes with Classy or at her artist’s page on Reverbnation ,where you can also hear songs from her first CD and custom songs written for special occasions, (another great gift idea!).

I will admit to a little selfishness here, I want to hear more! I am hoping someday to be enjoying a 3rd CD from Jennifer. That doesn’t happen unless she can promote and sell her current CD. So I am asking you all, my friends, to do what you can to help a new friend of mine. Maybe also consider looking at other independent writers and musicians to support. In doing so, you can keep many dreams alive.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My Father’s Shirt

I found it in a drawer, neatly folded. It was charcoal gray, a heavy flannel material. My mom had asked me to pack up his things so that they could be donated. I packed everything else, but I kept the shirt.

I don’t think I ever saw him wear it. And I am sure he did not buy it himself. It was probably given to him by one of my siblings as a present. Whenever we were at a loss as to what to buy him for Christmas, a shirt was always a safe gift to buy. It looked like it would be really warm.

When I got home I hung it in my closet. Often when I chose my clothes for the day, I would see it and smile. The first time I remember wearing it was the day we drove to Milwaukee to my uncle’s funeral. He was the youngest of my dad’s siblings. He was also the last. It was an extremely cold day, as I recall below zero with a nasty wind-chill. It was appropriate for the weather and I felt like I had my dad along to pay my final respects to his younger brother. And it was really warm.

It is a comfort, this shirt. I wore it recently to work when I knew it was going to be a tough shift. It is a tangible piece of him. I loved my dad and after 6 years I still miss him.

Right now, I am wearing his shirt.