Click the blue link below to hear one of my recent guitar recordings:
For several years, I planned to eventually release an enormous audio book, which I recorded in 2012. I kept waiting, mostly because that audio book had a lot of problems for me.
I wondered whether I was overly preachy about healing from grief on some of my stories. My voice sounded artificial in many parts and the recordings were over-processed.
But I also felt that the two stories I recorded about the loss of my son, Jason were definitely worth sharing. My emotional rendition was something I couldn’t imagine recreating.
Now that I was close to finishing my first vocal CD, I decided I wanted to release a smaller audio book; it would include Jason’s story and a few other stories I was comfortable with. I planned to record a new and updated introduction.
For two years, I struggled with writing it. I was dealing with the deaths of both my parents and a divorce after a long marriage. I wanted to be upbeat and positive and knew it was best to give myself time to heal.
After hiring an assistant to help me two months ago, my progress toward releasing my music accelerated. Suddenly, I was filled with enthusiasm because my eyes had slightly improved. I wrote a new introduction that felt inspiring and honest.
I was ready to record it and did microphone tests in several places. I picked a place working with an engineer whom I knew from Kulak’s Woodshed (where I often performed at open mics). He did not have a “soundproof” studio. But he had a microphone that remarkably softened sibilance; that “s” sound drove me crazy on my older recordings.
It had been three years since I’d recorded spoken audio. When I began to speak my new introduction, the engineer told me I was speaking too quietly. Unfortunately, having a soft voice caused more “room noise” to enter the microphone and that included my breathing, too.
I tried to speak louder, but then I sounded like I was shouting. Eventually, I gave up worrying about it. My book was my creation and I was the vehicle. My voice would have to be good enough.
Originally, I thought I’d only record a new introduction to go along with seven older recordings. But the new introduction sounded so nice, that I decided to record five other stories. I still planned to use the two older recordings of Jason’s story.
The first story I recorded was named “I Opened The Box.” It was about how I prepared myself to write about Jason’s life and death. The last line was, “I was finally ready to write about losing my child.”
That box was in my closet and the story about opening it up after 18 years brought up many feelings. The memories from that time in my life were vivid. I felt as if I could easily picture Jason and his preschool classmates.
Before I left, the soft-spoken man who recorded me said, “I just want you to know that I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose a child. I don’t know what to say – I am so sorry.” I let him know his words were appreciated.
It was after recording the story about opening the box, I made the decision to re-record the two stories about Jason. That way, all of the new recordings would match.
My new assistant was adamant that I record in a way that wasn’t overly emotional. I had received feedback like that before over the last few years. Too much emotion was a distraction for the listener.
But I also remembered how my story affected other people. Two good friends both told me, “Judy, when I was listening to your story, I had to pull over. It was so heart-rending that I had trouble driving.”
There were two stories about Jason. The first part was about his birth and first surgery when he was an infant. It ended before he was scheduled to have a second surgery at the age of five.
My stories were practically memorized because I’d listened to them so many times.
I managed to record those stories and there was still plenty of emotion. There were a few paragraphs where waves of emotion tugged at my voice, but I simply repeated them. It was far less than when my voice was teary on the older recordings, so I considered it to be an improvement.
When I was finished recording the second part, I came home and quietly ate lunch. I was exhausted and took a nap. In the afternoon, I was able to record vocals, which was uplifting for me. In the evening, I had dinner plans that I was looking forward to.
Below are the paragraphs leading up to where my voice was hijacked by emotion, despite my determination to speak smoothly. The phrases that caused my voice to shake are in italics.
1. When the elevator door opened, Jason’s voice piped out brightly, “Goodbye Gramma!” The mere mention of those words launched my mother into gut-wrenching sobs for years. They were Jason’s very last words on earth. The opera of Jason’s death now begins!
2. The surgeon came to see me – she was crying. I told her, “Go away!” I decided I didn’t have to listen to any more technical jargon about cardiac abnormalities every again.
3. It was soon time for me to go in and face seeing death. It would be the first dead person I had ever seen in my life. His eyes were open and unforgettable. They were lifeless and empty. Only the night before, those same eyes were intelligent – sparkling with joy and laughter. There was no question that he was gone and this was only a corpse.
4. Every year when it becomes fall, I remember that he is dead. The leaves that fall represent his body crumpling into a pile of dust. That first Halloween was less than a month after he died. All I could think of was his skeletal body in the cold ground. The scary monsters were nothing compared to what I conjured up in my mind.
5. The sympathy cards continued to arrive. The preschool took extra special care of my surviving son. He needed it. His mother had vacated the “mommy premises.”
6. Books have been written about the stages of grief. I have lived all of those stages. The numbness was bizarre. There was no sense of time. Eating, sleeping, living seemed outside the realm of what it once was. There was no purpose for anything anymore. The most difficult moment of every single day was to wake up and face what had happened. I did not want to wake up again, ever!
7. I looked at the sky, could he be there? I looked at a bird, at a butterfly; could his soul be visiting me? I strained to hear his voice again; was he calling for his mommy? There was no color in the world anywhere; there was nothing but shades of gray. It did not seem possible that it could get any worse. It did not seem possible that it could get any better. It was what it was: Empty. Sad. Excruciating. Endless!
8. Eventually, I cleaned out his room. For a bereaved parent, it is a difficult step to face. I spent many days crying on his bed, holding one of his shirts against my cheek. I had to face going to other children’s birthday parties with my living children. I had to walk through the market and not cry when I saw the food I used to buy for him. I had to learn how to live while seeing children his age continue to grow up. I had to accept that he would never grow up. He would never outlive me. He would never be anything but what he was.
Below is a link to the story that carries much of the material I recorded:
I showered and looked forward to seeing my friends for dinner. As I drove, I listened to my other new audio stories about music, which were very upbeat unlike the story I had recorded in the morning.
I picked up one of my friends and we met our other two friends at a restaurant nearby. We all hugged and had a lot of catching up to do. I liked listening to my friends talk about things going on with them. I was fairly quiet.
My passion for music and illustration work kept me isolated. I knew it was really good for me to be with them. I blinked back the annoying fog in my eyes and noticed that they weren’t hurting as much as they usually did. I was grateful for that.
We all finished eating and it was soon time to go home. As the other women were going over the check, I excused myself to go to the restroom.
As I left the table, I marveled that my heart felt light. Being with my friends really lifted my spirits. I was walking back from the restroom when I heard a voice call my name. It was coming from a table on the other side of the restaurant.
I walked closer and the woman at the end of the table reached out her hands to me. With an animated voice she said, “Judy, do you remember me? It’s Tamara!”
I looked at her closely and recognition began to grow. I was in shock for a moment as the realization hit me. I said, “Yes! Your daughter was in Jason’s preschool class and we were in the same “Mommy and Me” class, too.”
Tamara smiled warmly and said, “Yes, and she’s right here next to me. This is Ashley. And let me introduce you to her husband.” A beautiful couple beamed at me.
I remembered this mother and her child. Tamara was at Jason’s funeral and had brought a dinner over to my house a week later. The memory was especially clear because of the stories I’d recorded over the past week – how eerie that was!
Tamara was kind and warm. She squeezed my hand and her eyes widened as she said, “You know, I have never forgotten Jason and his adorable freckled face. Whenever I hear the song that was played at his funeral, I think of him.” That song (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) was Jason’s favorite one.
I smiled at Tamara and said, “I’m so touched that you remember him; thank you for sharing that with me.”
Yes, Jason would have been 28 years old if he had lived but he was frozen in time at the age of five. I noticed that my heart wasn’t aching as I looked at Tamara and her beautiful grown up daughter. It demonstrated to me how the overwhelming grief that had ruled my life for decades was truly gone.
I told Tamara how I had embraced music five years ago. Jason was a gift and returned to my life in a different way. I carried him in my songs and in my heart. I had healed.
Tamara said, “I always wondered what happened to you. I am so glad to see you looking this way – radiant and joyful.”
As I walked back to join my friends, I felt quite inspired. My past, present and future swirled around me such a beautiful way!
Link to Part 1 of this story: #23 BYE, BYE ZOMBIELAND – PART 1
In 2010 when I first began writing this blog, I also wrote about the experience of meeting another mother from Jason’s preschool class 18 years later in a market.
Zombieland represented the many years I plodded through life in a way that was “deadened.” Even though I was healing when I wrote the first part of this story, I really had no idea what was ahead for me. How beautiful it is for me to write a second part to that story with the insights I have five years later.
Zombieland is even farther behind me now because I completely turned my life around. I am alive!
And very grateful for every minute of my life.
© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.