“The singing stopped for her”
Today, I reached out and made another call.
It had been on my mind for a while. I called Cheryl’s mother, Blanche. Cheryl died of breast cancer a little over two years ago. I have not spoken with her mother in many years.
I called Cheryl’s brother, Barry, the week before Mother’s Day. He said he would ask her if she was willing to speak with me; then he’d get back to me.
After Cheryl died, Barry told me his mother could not to speak with me. He was being protective of her and I understood. She sent me a card that stated those words on it also.
I hadn’t heard anything. So today I decided to just call her. I was a little nervous.
Blanche was warm and we had such a nice time talking. There were many emotional moments. We made a plan. Our plan is next Friday, May 28th. That would have been Jason’s twenty-third birthday.
It would be a fitting day for me to visit with a fellow, bereaved mother.
I am planning to drive out to where she lives. She lives about an hour from me. We’ll visit and go out to dinner.
Blanche has not read my blog. I told her I had written about Cheryl and it was very emotional for me.
Blanche remembered my love of music. She asked me to bring my guitar when I came to see her. Cheryl always told me that her mother loved to sing. Cheryl wanted her mother to continue singing because it was therapy. During her terminal illness, Cheryl hated thinking about how much suffering it caused her mother.
I asked Blanche if she still sang choral music and performed. She hesitated because she couldn’t speak for a moment.
Then Blanche said, “I stopped singing after Cheryl died.” Her voice caught as she softly cried. She regained her composure and continued.
“The singing was just too much for me. I’m 88 years old, and I need to take care of myself. I don’t want to ever be a burden to my son and his family. I pray to die in my sleep someday.”
When Cheryl died, my parents were living with me. My family took up all of my energy. I hadn’t seen Cheryl for many years, except for a few brief visits.
I was surprised by how much I wrote about Cheryl.
Recently, I came across some email correspondence between Cheryl and I seven years ago.
Seeing that exchange caused me to ache. Each and every time I read our words, I realized how much I missed her.
Through the years, even though we didn’t speak often, I knew Cheryl understood about my life and my struggles. As I follow the path of a songwriting journey, she is deeply inside of me. Her death has made me appreciate my life even more and her spirit continues to inspire me.
I started to practice and play the song, “A Place I’ve Never Been.” Cheryl had written the lyrics for it. I could not play it, because I ended up heaving with sobs over my guitar. My grief has finally found its way up to the surface.
I received some wonderful messages after I shared what I’d written with people who had known her. I had written that Cheryl touched many people; the messages I received confirmed that.
One letter that moved me very much, painted a poignant image. It was one that sadly might be commonplace for those with a terminal illness. Cheryl enlisted her friend’s help to write a letter for each one of her three children. It would be her legacy to each child once she was gone.
Without knowing what she wrote, I’m certain that her words of wisdom and inspiration will stay with her children for the rest of their lives.
I often think about a special song I wrote before I was married, “Only Tears.” I wrote the song in calligraphy as part of a painting and gave it to Cheryl just before I got married. It was a very meaningful gift, and she loved it.
“Only Tears” represented a sense of finality for me about a chapter in my life that was ending. I knew it well when I wrote the song, and sharing the song with my friends that were leaving on world travels made the song even more poignant for me.
My song was a goodbye to my college friends. It was also a goodbye to singing and songwriting, as well.
Sent: Monday, May 05, 2003
Subject: Keeping in touch
I haven’t heard from you in a while, so I can guess that you’re probably super busy. I still love keeping in touch with you, so I’m going to write to you regardless!
I had to share with you that I went away without kids this past weekend. It has been eleven years since I’ve done that. I went to a retreat entitled, “Healing the Mother’s Heart,” a get-away for mothers. Of course, it was a lot of work just to leave instructions for all of my kids for only two days. But it was so touching, to hear all of these incredible mothers’ stories; I cried so much myself because I am so filled with grief.
The best part was Saturday night! I played my guitar and several women sang along with me. They couldn’t get over my songbook! I also shared several of my original songs; it has been so long since I’ve played them. My fingers are so sore today – they’re numb and blistered! I didn’t go to sleep until after midnight. It has been such a long time since I’ve felt so unburdened and not super-mom.
Anyway, I hope you and your family is doing well. I thought of you so deeply when I sang “Only Tears” – it was very special to remember all of those wonderful times we sang together.
—– Original Message —–
Sent: Thursday, May 08, 2003
Subject: RE: Keeping in touch
Every time I think I am going to e-mail you, I get preoccupied with something. At the end of the month I am speaking at a middle school assembly on the Holocaust. I am taking a survivor with me. I have been trying to get into the mind-set of a teenager having to go through the holocaust so I can help pull the kids in during the presentation. It has been draining but it has helped me sort through some of my own issues. These people had it worse than we can ever imagine, yet they chose to go on with their lives. They look for the miracles in life to help them through the hard times. I know I have had many miracles and I know you have, too!
I’m glad you got away. That is so important for you sanity. Do you know that I have that painting (I only have tears song) hanging in my basement? Sometimes I still sing it.
Sorry about the challenges you’ve faced with your children. Some kids go through life without their needs being properly met. Your children are lucky to have you as their mother.
Talk to you soon. Love, Cheryl
Subject: Re: Keeping in touch
Date: Thursday, May 15, 2003
Conversation: Keeping in touch
It was nice to hear from you! I hope that your presentation at the end of this month goes well.
I’ve been feeling better since my retreat. I’ve already organized a reunion dinner this week; it sure is great having email to keep in touch. Now, I need to get more art jobs in! My daughter’s new school requires a lot more time in driving, but it’s been worth it. Guess what? I signed up for a talent show at her new school – I auditioned yesterday, and all these mothers were so excited to hear me play. I’m still using the same old guitar from our beach going days.
SOME CORRESPONDENCE I RECEIVED AFTER WRITING ABOUT CHERYL:
On May 1, 2010, Karen wrote:
I was so moved by your blog entries about your life and your friendship with Cheryl. I never met Cheryl. I have known her husband’s brother for many, many years, and later got to know his wife and kids when they lived in Palo Alto for a while. We do not correspond very frequently, but I closely followed the entries about Cheryl and almost felt like I knew her. What an amazing woman she was and I can tell that you are as well.
I’m in tears now as I take in all the beautiful words you shared. I admire your strength. I’m a geriatric Social Worker/MFT, which I think is the field Cheryl was in. Currently, I’m a caregiver to two older adult women. Well, I’m not much of a writer but i wanted to share some and thank you for sending me your personal writings.
May God continue to give you good health and blessings in your life. Thank you so much.
On May 1, 2010, Sharon wrote:
Judy: This is one of the most beautiful and memorable things that I have experienced. I was so touched by your friendship. In my office I have a picture of Cheryl and the family. When Cheryl decided to leave work, I asked only one thing of her. I wanted the beautiful, beautiful picture on her desk, which she gave to me. I cherish it and look at it daily. Although my friendship with her was brief, it formed instantly on the day we met. She was loved by many and gave all of us some of her strength, compassion and humor.
Thank you for sharing.
PS- I will be saving this in my file.
On May 4, 2010, Phylis wrote:
Thank you so much for sharing all of this with me and including me re: memories of Cheryl.
I think of Cheryl often and liken her to an angel on my shoulder. These thoughts bring over me a peacefulness that Cheryl brought out of all of us during her lifetime, even as she approached death with such magical calm. She accomplished more (and influenced more people) in her short life than most of us can even begin to accomplish in our more extended lifetimes. Even when trying to bring comfort to her, she turned that around and brought comfort to me. She worked hard to make memories for her family.
It gives me comfort now to know that all three of them have that to treasure. She wanted all of them to move on with their lives. I know she gave them all “guilt free” permission to move on and she would be so very proud of how well each one is doing.
I was fortunate to “take dictation,” as she wrote a special note to leave for each of them – there are not words to express what that time with Cheryl meant to me.
You are so right. Love does not die. I learned so much from her; she will be in my heart and mind forever.
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