Beside Me Always – Now Available On Audio!

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Originally posted on Susan Hanfield:
I am excited to celebrate with Judy Unger the audiobook release of her poignant memoir Beside Me Always  recorded at Studio City Sound and produced by Punch Audio.  I met Judy a year prior to…

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Susan Hanfield did an incredible job recording my audio book. My book is now available on Audible!

For thirty years I didn’t write. But In 2010, I opened up my heart completely and my journey of insight began. The material that poured forth on my blog became the script for my book.

I dreamed of releasing an audio book for over eight years. I recorded it myself four times and learned a great deal about recording from that. I hesitate to even think about how many hours I spent working on my passionate project.

I always envisioned my book as an audio book because I loved the idea of adding audio clips to enhance the story. Those clips weren’t actually used in the final rendition, but I added them as out-takes at the end of the book.

In 2015, I met with the publisher of Punch Audio to see if he could distribute my most recent book recording.  His name was Alex and his feedback was that I didn’t have a trained speaking voice to carry my material. He said that authors rarely speak their story well and instead recommended I have it professionally recorded.

His suggestion was to listen to one of Susan Hanfield’s audiobooks. I did, and set up another appointment with Alex. When I came to the recording studio, Alex introduced me to Susan who was there recording another book. We immediately hit it off.

I confessed to Susan that I was anxious about having someone else read my story. She completely understood and a few months later generously recorded a 10-minute sample of one of my stories.

When I began to listen to her sample I was nervous. But then I became emotional and realized what a beautiful voice she had to tell my story.

It took another two years after that before my project moved forward. I decided that I wanted to improve my book. My close friend, Janet who was an author helped with additional editing and I will be forever grateful to her. I ended up adding four more chapters due to her excellent suggestions.

Sitting in a recording studio and watching Susan record my story was magical and moving. I could hardly believe that my life stories were unfolding in such a beautiful way.

At the same time that my book was moving forward to completion, I began creating a new meditation song also named “Beside Me Always.” The melody that I composed when I was 17 reverberated through my life. I felt completely inspired and uplifted by the exquisitely haunting notes.

When my book became available two days before Mother’s Day, I eagerly shared the news. I created a slideshow with my new music “in progress” playing along with the lyrics Susan had so beautifully read.

I shared it with friends and family. And then the reality of it all hit me. I put my head down on my desk and cried.

They were tears of sorrow, tears of joy, and tears of healing.


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Click to hear a shortened excerpt of Angel in the Sky Meditation Song. The 30-minute version is free on the Insight Timer Meditation App:


Watching a close friend die from pneumonia was a trigger for me. The horror of my mother’s death seemed vivid again as I took in the sad circumstances of my friend, Marilyn.

As always, I was thankful for my music. It carried me through the sadness and became a cozy blanket for everyone around me to rest upon.

I especially appreciated my newer meditation music. I had two new songs – one was still unfinished and the other one I had just released on Insight Timer, the meditation app where I had a warm family of listeners.

I was glad I made the decision to create new meditation music when 2018 began. I found a new arranger; his name was Robert. He was a kind young man and told me he was no stranger to grief when I described my music to him. We had a great connection from the start and our first song was one I had longed to use for meditation – Angel in the Sky.

I was very nervous. I had to catch my breath as I walked into the huge hospital. I was going to an isolation room where Marilyn was.

Only a few days before, her son had sent me a text and I ached reading it. He suggested it would be a good thing to visit her. Prior to that, she was undergoing stem cell treatments and wasn’t able to have visitors for months.

The line her son wrote that stuck in my head was: My mom has at least another week to go before she has the chance to come home and succumb to her terminal illness.

I donned a gown, gloves and a mask to enter the room; my heart was pounding. I tapped on the door and entered slowly.

Because of her weakened immune system, Marilyn was struggling with pneumonia. She coughed continuously, but she asked me to tell her about things happening with me. I couldn’t help but feel terrible knowing that she was dying as I shared about my life.

I could see she was tired and I told her I would play something soothing so she could sleep. I had brought a small speaker and began playing my meditation song “Angel in the Sky.” The notes caressed the hospital room.

When it was time for me to leave, I reassured Marilyn that I would come back to visit her again soon. My eyes watered when she told me in a whisper that she would like me to bring my guitar the next time I visited.

I returned a few days later. This time, another good friend came with me. Marilyn was part of a group – our group had been together for 15 years and had a very special bond.

Lynn spread lavender on Marilyn’s sheets and gently provided a Reiki treatment while I sat nearby.

I had brought my guitar and hesitantly pulled it out. It was difficult to play with gloves on, so i slipped them off. I slowly lowered my mask so I could sing and hoped it would be okay.

I played over a dozen grief-related songs. Marilyn thanked me after every one.

The one that gripped me the most was “Never Gone Away.” It was hard to sing the line: “I know that soon you will leave me.” The reality I was facing made those lyrics absolutely true.

With courage I blurted out, “Marilyn, I am going to dedicate a song to you when you are gone.”

She said softly, “That would be very nice.”

This photo was taken two years ago when our group visited Marilyn while she was undergoing chemo.

With each visit over the next two weeks, Marilyn grew weaker and weaker. Eventually she couldn’t speak or open her eyes.

The last time I visited her hospital isolation room, she was struggling to breathe with an oxygen mask. Her sister had been staying overnight and was exhausted. She filled Lynn and I in on the gravity of things. 

When Marilyn suddenly opened her eyes and expressively blinked at me, her sister told me it was unbelievable.

I unzipped my guitar from its case and began playing. Marilyn’s agitation diminished and she relaxed. I sang again for hours.

It was very spiritual and filled with deep music connection. I knew when I left that it would be the last time I’d be doing this with Marilyn.

She died later that evening.

But then, I was invited to play for her one more time. This time she was lying in a coffin at her vigil.

I waited for the right moment. I chose the songs I had played in the hospital. I sang my lyrics slowly and carefully so they could be understood.

I felt tears falling around me as I sang.

The flower bouquet for Marilyn from our group.

Our group of five “Special Moms” attended the funeral. We purchased a flower arrangement and it was Lynn’s idea that we could keep the tiny ornamental statue. We’d take turns bringing it with us to our gatherings. That way Marilyn could join us in spirit. I loved her idea!

Later on, Lynn confided in me. She said, “Ever since our last hospital visit, I’ve had some trouble sleeping. I’ve been listening to your Angel meditation song on Insight Timer. It has helped me sleep and feel better.”

Her words helped me feel better, too.

Marilyn was now an angel in my life.

The comments I receive on Insight Timer are definitely fuel for me to continue creating new music.



At a recent performance I dedicated a song to Marilyn. It can be heard at this link: NEVER GONE AWAY

Marilyn inspired my lyrics for “Wonder Why.” That song can be heard at this link: WONDER WHY

My Facebook post in dedication to my dear friend, Marilyn.

Seeing pictures of our group brought back wonderful memories such as this one taken in Solvang.

This is my favorite picture of our group. We call ourselves “Special Moms.”

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People often comment to me about my smile. I have always found it easy to smile and since I rediscovered my passion for music, I am bursting with joy from within.

I also like to look at my life as an adventure. It gives me the openness to try new things and to view anything scary as something worth overcoming.

I recently came back from touring Utah. It was definitely an adventure for me!

Next week, I am going to embark upon an adventure because I am having one of my songs filmed for a music video. It is truly a dream come true and nothing I ever imagined I’d be doing at the age of 58!

When I began playing my guitar again eight years ago, it was due to my good friend, Joni. She remembered how I had played in high school and encouraged me to play again. And how interesting it was that her two sons, David and Shimmy had recently started producing music videos. For a few years before that they had been producing commercials.

She connected me with them and I was intrigued by the idea that I could actually create a music video for one of my songs. I met with the creative team and was impressed with how professional everyone was. This was becoming a lot of fun for me!

David would direct the video and it would be filmed by Shimmy. Shimmy’s wife, Donna, added wonderful creative input. The obvious question they asked me was which one of my songs did I want made into a music video?

It wasn’t easy for me to pick my favorite song.

I sent a folder of recordings over to David. I narrowed down my choices to five songs. David listened to them and told me there was a favorite one – it was so sweet that it even made him teary. I tried to guess which song, but I couldn’t.

When he told me it was “Crystal Oceans,” I grinned from ear to ear – I never considered my love song to be that touching. But I did love the title and it certainly conjured up lovely imagery.

(Link to more about “Crystal Oceans”

It was so long ago when I composed my song as a 17-year-old girl dreaming of romance. How would anyone relate to my song since I’m a lot older now?

David reassured me that my song would work just fine. Actors could play out the song’s story. This was sounding more and more exciting. When I received his detailed script and shot list I almost fell out of my chair.

There would be a young Judy. And a handsome young man would portray the guy with crystal blue eyes running down the beach. Young Judy would be penning lyrics in her bedroom as she imagined him taking her by the hand. They would frolic in the tide and fall in love.

But older Judy (ME!) would also be in the video. David loved the image of me sailing on a boat. It held beautiful metaphors; I was setting my sites on the horizon as I calmly sailed across the sea to an unknown destination.

My lyrics for Crystal Oceans evolved over time. David didn’t know that my verse about sailing was only written six months ago. It definitely added more to my song’s story and I was ecstatic that everything had come together for my song in such a profound way.

But it was Donna, Shimmy’s wife who had a surprising idea. She said everyone loved happy endings. My video would close out with the image of a handsome older man holding me as I sailed across crystal blue seas at the end of the video. He was the older version of the young handsome man I longed for at the beginning of my song.

My post title of “That Moment When” is a line from “Crystal Oceans.” Sometimes, it becomes clear when there is a moment that changes everything.

Throughout my life, I’ve experienced that. Sometimes it is with hindsight that I’ve realized something minor was actually something very significant.

Originally “Crystal Oceans” was about my dream that a handsome young man would take my hand, but there was also that moment when I allowed music into my heart again after years and years of grief.

When I started to play music again after 30 years, I had many responsibilities and chores to do. But there I was sitting alone in my darkened bedroom and I never imagined what it would lead to; that my life would completely change after that.

At the age of 17, I loved singing the melody to “Crystal Oceans.” I even used la la la’s to fill in my song because it didn’t have verses. The catchy tune was one I never forgot, even after 3 decades.

Then In 2011, I was on a vacation with my family and decided to expand my song. I sat in the bathroom to write the verse lyrics and melody. It was very challenging to imagine romance because I was lonely at the time and very much devoted to my family. But as a songwriter, dreaming and imagining lifted me right out of my stressful life and was magical.

Last year, I recorded a new version of “Crystal Oceans.” I decided my song could benefit by adding one more verse. I was still married when I wrote the verse lyrics in 2011, but now I was divorced. What could I come up with? My new verse became:

In my dreams on crystal blue seas, you and I are sailing on an ocean breeze . . .

David’s script involved a sailboat and the rental was secured. Two months ago, I enjoyed watching the screen tests and the actors that were chosen were wonderful. I had to admit that I was a little nervous about filming the ending to my video in a romantic way with a total stranger.

I’ve thought a lot about my video ending with the illusion that I had an enduring relationship with the blue-eyed young man. If I chose to, I could be sad and mourn that I did not experience what I had dreamed of as a young girl.

But I’ve had many other dreams come true and there are many more to come. “Crystal Oceans” is all about dreaming and possibilities. Just because I’m older – well, it hasn’t ended for me.

I am on an adventure where anything is possible!

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My post title of “You Have Flown” is a lyric line from my song “Set You Free.” Set You Free is also the name I’ve given to several song compilations that I’ve released on Insight Timer (a meditation app that carries my music.)

My meditation song compilation is my most popular track on Insight Timer. Those songs were created by my former arranger and are definitely best for meditation.

Recently, I released a new instrumental medley on Insight Timer. I used the same illustration for the cover but changed the color theme. My medley of “Healing Instrumental Songs” contained the same six songs except they were based upon my guitar arrangements. I worked very hard mixing and finalizing those songs. It’s one of the many reasons why I haven’t written on my blog for four months.

I have another new medley, which will be released soon. It is the first one that incorporates my voice and I’m very excited to share my lyrics with the wonderful Insight Timer community.

Links to my stories about Set You Free:

Story behind SET YOU FREE-PART 1

Story behind SET YOU FREE-PART 2

Story behind SET YOU FREE-PART 3

Links to hear my song Set You Free:

Set You Free Acoustic 1-3-18 Copyright 2018 by Unger

Set You Free Arrangement 12-20-17 Copyright 2017 by Unger

Set You Free Vocal 1-2-18 Copyright 2018 by Unger

I wrote the lyrics to “Set You Free” while facing the loss of my father. He was declining steadily from repeated infections.

But my lyrics had another meaning for me. They were about anticipating the time when I would set one of my children free.

Yesterday, my 27-year-old son moved out to start a new phase in his life. In the hours before he left, I could hear my father’s voice and we had entire conversations in my head.

My father was extraordinarily close to my oldest son. Perhaps it was the loss of my first-born son, Jason that brought them closer.

As a baby, toddler and young child – my oldest son was very challenging. I wrote a lot about my unrelenting advocacy (for all of my children) on my blog years ago. Even though it was therapeutic for me to share those stories, I decided to delete them later on out of respect for my childrens’ privacy.

My father was a dedicated teacher and he took it upon himself to tutor my son relentlessly. My other two children would make a mad dash in another direction whenever my father came over. They had little patience for their grandpa who would not let go of them once they were in his “tutoring grip.”

This picture from my son’s high school graduation was taken the year before my father passed away.

But with my oldest son, it was different. Even though he occasionally complained, he was very connected to his grandfather. The love between them was touching and sweet. My father’s devotion to him helped me greatly. At that time, I was overwhelmed with my mother’s care and my other childrens’ issues.

My father died before he could see his beloved grandson graduate from college. I was extremely emotional at the graduation ceremony. I could hear my father weeping with joy and nodded silently as I held back my falling tears.

That was six years ago. Since then, my son had difficulty finding a steady job. He became a tax preparer, which was seasonal work. During the off-season he had another job, but there were no benefits and the pay was low. He was well liked by his co-workers, yet it became apparent that this wasn’t the best career for him.

One day, he told me he had an idea. He had heard from one of his co-workers that there were programs in other states where he could easily become a teacher. The pay was excellent and the cost of living there much cheaper than in Los Angeles, where we lived.

This opportunity could actually allow him to live independently. He decided to apply to a program closest to where we lived, in the state of Nevada. I knew he was anxious about this change, but I loved the fact that it was something he came up with on his own. My son quit his job doing tax work because he just couldn’t stand it anymore.

For many months, he was always home.

He didn’t handle noise well. He complained about the traffic noise and I complained to him that it was noisy when he and his friend were playing video games late at night. Whenever I played guitar and sang he would tell me it distracted him; our bedrooms were very close together. So I seldom sang when he was home. I wore headphones most of the time and if I played music aloud, I would be sure to close my closet and place a towel under my door to muffle sound.

Occasionally, my son would go to his car for an hour to give me some time alone. He knew I missed singing freely and he was right. I would sing my heart out and text him to come back when I was done.

We were both anxiously waiting to see if his application would be accepted. I assured him he would get in. When he received his acceptance letter, he couldn’t believe it; his new future could truly become a reality.

Two weeks ago, we took a road trip to find a place for him to live. The program was in Las Vegas, Nevada, a five-hour drive away. I was sick with a bad cold the whole time, but we accomplished what we set out to do.

We scouted the apartments there and on our last evening a wonderful opportunity became available to him. A good friend called me to tell me she knew of a family that could rent him a room. We went to check it out first thing in the morning and it was perfect. My son loved dogs and a large dog jumped all over him when we came to look at the house.

On the day he planned to leave, I wondered when he would start packing. Around lunchtime, he knocked on my door and asked me if I could keep him company while he gathered his belongings.

It seemed unreal as I sat on his bed and watched him. He asked me to look through mismatched socks and make pairs for him. I silently kicked myself for not buying some new socks the week before.

My son had a passion for magic tricks and I smiled seeing him put a few trinkets into a small case. I imagined him dazzling his young students, he would be surrounded by excited children begging him to show them more.

“Hey mom, have I ever shown you this?” he asked.

He pulled out his grandfather’s driver’s license from his wallet. That license was so important to my father at the end of his life and I could see my son treasured it.

Slowly we both filled up duffel bags and a few suitcases. I would clean his room later on and reminded myself that he would surely be back for visits.

But there was such poignancy about this moment.

His life journey was diverging from mine as he moved down his own path. I smiled as I pictured a bird flying out of a nest. The momma bird was really happy because suddenly she had a lot more room to move – she had done her job well because her baby bird was flying off to a new life with wonderful possibilities.

I wondered what my father would have thought about his grandson becoming an elementary school teacher. My father, the consummate teacher, pounded so many lessons into my son.

Whenever my son became discouraged, he would say, “I wish grandpa were here.”

I would wipe a tear away as I replied, “Me, too.”

My son’s car was finally loaded up. He looked at his back seat and said, “Mom, I don’t need half the things you gave me. I’ll probably never use them.”

Maybe he was right. I glanced at the frying pans, razor blades, pain relievers and cans of food. I kept thinking of the socks I wished I’d bought, too.

Now it was time for him to leave.

“Wait!” I said. “Let me get you something to eat on the road so you won’t have to stop for food.”

I ran into the house to warm up his last frozen vegetarian entrée. I brought it out to his car with a plastic fork and a banana.

The lyric line of “We both know, it’s hard to let go,” began echoing in my head.

I hugged him through his car window and wished him luck.

As his car drove out of the carport, I could hear my father weeping with joy. I blinked back the tears.

My son was free.

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A few months ago, it was very therapeutic for me to create a new arrangement for my song “Angel in the Sky.” I created the instrumental video below using pictures and other images I’ve illustrated.

Yesterday I was writing to a friend in grief. I promised her that one day it would get better. She wrote:

I remember the beginning of this journey. It was a black hole of agony. I never thought I would reach this point but here I am. I will believe you because you have been walking this path longer than I have. Thank you.‪

I replied:

Today it is 25 years since the horrible day when I saw my child dead on October 6, 1992. I will never forget that image or the trauma.

But all these years later, I am peaceful.

Last night, I went out with some girlfriends to celebrate my birthday (it’s next week). We had a Thai massage and as I enjoyed it I felt overcome with emotion. I softly began to cry, my cheeks were wet with tears and I wondered if the masseuse knew.

I kept thinking about how much I love my three living children and how lucky I am that they are all doing well. So much has happened since his death. I will always wonder what he could have been – that hasn’t changed. But my acceptance fills me with amazement. I am in awe of my healing.

The first four links below are versions of my new arrangement (with and without vocals and/or instrumentation). Under those are my older instrumental arrangements.

Angel in the Sky Arrangement 9-16-17

Angel in the Sky Guitar Mix 8-23-17

Angel in the Sky #2 Arrangement 2014

Angel in the Sky #1 Instrumental 2013

Links to read lyrics and other stories about this song:

Story behind ANGEL IN THE SKY-PART 1

Story behind ANGEL IN THE SKY-PART 2

Story behind ANGEL IN THE SKY-PART 3

When I first began grieving the death of my son, Jason, I did not look up and feel that he was my angel in sky.

I survived the worst pain and carried my sadness silently for many years. Rediscovering music seven years ago changed everything. I found a way to express my feelings, which led to healing and joy.

Angel in the Sky” reminds me of my love and pain. I do still cry and my voice reflects that when I sing my song.

Feeling him close to me, inspired by music and finding joy again in life represents my healing. But his death changed me and I still see my grief as a lifelong journey.

The picture on the right is a piece of artwork Jason made while in preschool. It looks like an angel to me.

For another bereaved mother that I correspond with, her vision of grief is one of a stalker.

I have shared many of my touching exchanges with Sammi on this blog. It has been five years since Sammi’s son AJ died. She writes about her grief with heartbreaking honesty and I often feel compelled to write back hopeful replies.

Below is a recent exchange between us.


You know that place: the place between being awake and sleeping, the place where you are gently floating in a bubble of unawareness. That’s where I was last night when I suddenly gasped and sat up straight, staring around the room. I was disorganized at first. I had been sitting on the love seat, dozing in front of the TV. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. The last thing I remembered was hearing AJ’s voice, his laugh. It was comforting to me and suddenly it was gone. “I haven’t gone anywhere”, a voice whispered. “I’m still here” it said and chuckled. It was back: my stalker grief.”

They always think I’m gone . . . always,” the voice said while laughing. The pain hit me then, right in the center of my chest, knocking the breath right out of me, spiking my heart rate to a pounding fury. I wondered right then how I physically made it through the beginning of this horrible journey. I think people fail to realize that we are not only dealing with emotional problems but also physical problems as well and how I handled the two eludes me at times like this.

I rubbed my chest and tried to slow my breathing when I heard it again. “He’s never coming back”, a chuckle, “You will never see him again,” a singsong voice, “You will never watch him get married or see his children,” a whisper, “Never, never, never, never, never – it’s over!”

My eyes started to burn and the lump grew in my throat. “Please,” I whispered, “Go away . . . please!” The ominous cloud that I had succeeded in outrunning started to descend on me. My soul screamed: “I’ve had enough – No more!” It was suddenly silent and I couldn’t hear a thing, not even the TV.

“NO!” screamed the nightmare voice. “I decide when it is over . . . I always decide when it’s over!” The words echoed in my head. I let the tears fall. I let the pain take over. I gave up the struggle and sank into the abyss.

We learn to live with the agony that has been dumped into our lives. We learn to live with the knowledge that a part of us will always be missing. We learn to live with half of our heart and half of our soul. We develop a persona that we show to the world that they will accept. We appear normal and we fit in. We have no choice because if we show our true faces, the world cannot handle that. I don’t really blame them. I was there once too.

AJ, you had so much to give. You weren’t done. You should be here. I can say how much I miss you, ache for you, until I am blue in the face. Nothing changes. Nothing ever will. I will always, no, matter how much time has passed, wake to that stalker whispering in my ear. Time will never change that; it will only lengthen in between visits.

AJ, how I yearn for you. I can’t even type these words without the tears starting. Living without you has not become easier. Missing you has not lessened. I wish daily that it had been me. That is how it is supposed to be, parent before child.

It should have been me.


Sammi, your writing is so gut wrenching as you describe your grief. But one day, perhaps your story will ease into a different direction.

Your story begins the same way. Except that when you hear AJ’s voice – instead of being stabbed by the stalker of grief, you will hear AJ speaking to you. You will be enveloped by his love and feel certain he is surrounding you always.

Some of the aching and longing might eventually diminish over time – but love never changes. I understand how it can feel hopeless. I remember that so well.

But you have acknowledged that the stalker of grief is definitely visiting you less and less. You are wise to know it might come again.

I look forward to when you have more and more moments of feeling AJ with you. I say my son returned to me. That was the beginning of my healing. One day he came back and that realization has helped me every day.

Thinking of you with so much love and care.

The thought that someday my grief would ease didn’t seem possible 25 years ago.

When grief is raw and torturous, someday feels like never, the loss is too huge and the hole is gaping. Coping with that anguish leaves no possibility or hope for feeling better, let alone peaceful or joyous about life.

I do believe there is a chain of support that develops with grief. Holding on and later on helping others was very key to my survival of grief.

The exchange below represents three bereaved mothers. The first mother has just begun her journey. The second mother, Sammi, is five years along on her journey. I am the third bereaved mother.

Today I cried

Today I thought of you

Today I missed you

Today I cried

Today I wished you were here

Today I thought of something you would like

Today I saw something you would want

Today I saw your picture

Today I heard your favorite song

Today I cried

Today I thought of something that would make you laugh

Today I looked through your things

Today I saw your friends

Today I knew your siblings missed you

Today I still can’t believe you’re gone

Today I cried

Today I longed to hold your hand

Today I longed to hear your voice

Today I wished it were me

Today was hard. I hope I have the strength to do it all again tomorrow.

Danni (Dani tragically lost her daughter Caitlin only a few months ago in a tragic accident.)


Today you got out of bed.

Today you took care of your family.

Today you lived through the pain.

Today you shared with those who understand.

Today you will cry again.

Tomorrow you will do it all again.

We are here.



Someday, you will wonder how you survived this horrific grief journey.

Someday, there will be moments when you’ll still cry. But then you’ll wipe away the tears.

Someday, you will look back and smile when beautiful memories return.

Someday, you will hold someone else’s hand that is in total despair to help give them the strength to keep going.


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Link to recordings for my song Peaceful and Inspired: PEACEFUL AND INSPIRED

It was so different for me to be traveling on my own. I opened the window of my quaint motel room and the smell of pine was glorious. After showering, I threw my suitcases into my Honda Civic. I turned on my meditation music to inspire me for my 5-hour drive through Northern California. I was leaving Paradise (what a beautiful name for a mountain town!) and driving to Santa Rosa.

Dappled shadows sprinkled over my car as I navigated the mountain road. Once I hit the bottom, I sailed past rolling hills and vineyards.

A sign caught my eye and I turned off the highway. My car shook as I went down a long dirt road into an orchard. After a restroom stop, I carried a large box of fresh peaches and put them on the seat next to me. The peaches would be a lovely gift to share with Cindy when I arrived. Soon I found myself eating a juicy peach as I drove – I was truly in heaven.

Cindy and I knew each other in high school and had been very close while in college. We lost touch shortly before I was married. At our 30th high school reunion, we reconnected. And only a few months ago at our 40th reunion, she mentioned to me that I could visit her anytime I wanted to.

I decided to take her up on her offer. When my 27-year-old son told me he wanted to visit his uncle in Northern California for five days, I knew it was a terrific opportunity for him and I to spend one-on-one time together on the long drive there. I could visit Cindy after dropping him off and this would definitely add adventure to my life.

It was a long time ago when Cindy and I used to go horseback riding, hiking and folk dancing. Losing touch with her felt sad; I had even written a song about it. But my mind was still foggy about why it had happened.

After our 30th high school reunion, Cindy came to visit me. Our children were of similar ages and at that time I was living in a huge home. I showed her my artwork and we talked about our lives since college. We took some really nice family pictures on that day.

Years later when I told Cindy that I was getting divorced, she said, “Judy, I noticed that something was really off when I visited you ten years ago. I even told my husband Barry that something was wrong.” I asked her to explain – what was off?

She told me she sensed my unhappy marriage. Her clue was that my husband and I had barely spoken to or about each other. And what had really surprised her was when she asked me if I ever sang and played my guitar anymore.

I gave her my standard answer. The music that had given me joy and intimacy with my friends was gone. I stopped playing after I was married because I was too busy focusing on my career. Cindy was very surprised by my answer because music was my identity all the time she knew me. When my music ended, I lost the connection and expression of my heart.

My detachment from music and joy was clear to her. I just didn’t know.

This post is named for my song “Peaceful and Inspired,” which I composed in 2014 while on a trip in Oregon.

Driving with my son turned out to be very special and his company was precious. Even though he lived with me, he was making plans to move away – possibly early next year.

I was fine doing most of the driving through boring stretches of farmland. We stopped for lunch at a famous Pea Soup restaurant and took pictures of each other.

I was curious how it would be seeing my son’s uncle, my former brother-in-law. It was probably about ten years since we had seen each other. I knew my divorce probably came as a shock to him; I remembered how I felt after both my brothers’ divorces.

In the early evening we arrived at the forest town of Paradise, which was our destination. I enjoyed seeing my former brother-in-law and his lovely wife. They were warm and excited to see my son. There was nothing awkward about our time together and I felt comfortable.

We went out for dinner and afterwards we all took a walk at a nearby park. I especially appreciated the cooler air since the hot weather had been stifling when we left earlier that morning. The park was connected to a pine forest and deer walked within view.

I said good night to everyone and checked into a motel nearby. The feeling of freedom was indescribable. I was alone in this beautiful setting and filled with gratitude.

Before I rediscovered my love for music, I was not peaceful. I was “stressed out and uninspired.”

When I started to play my guitar again, I found inspiration but I was still fairly stressed out. I had to manage with both my parents’ declining health. I was an advocate for all of my children. Separating after a long marriage and suffering with dry eyes took a huge toll upon my psyche.

Yet during that time, I experienced an amazing renaissance of writing and composing. I am truly in awe about how I did those things while struggling, but consider it a spiritual gift that saved me.

Now that I am in a place of peacefulness, I haven’t felt the need to write like I used to. My time and energy is spent creating new recordings and arrangements of my songs.

When I reflect upon my life and my amazing journey, I seldom imagine what is ahead for me. I feel like where I am it is an absolutely perfect and beautiful place to be.

I am able to devote myself to my passion of creating music. I am close to all three of my children. What more could I want?

I arrived at Cindy and Barry’s home in the late afternoon. I was tired and I felt relieved to have made it safely there. Cindy warmly welcomed me in and Barry helped carry my suitcase and guitar into their daughter’s bedroom.

It worked out well that their daughter was going away that very day to see a solar eclipse that was a few hundred miles away. I would sleep in her room.

Over the next few days, I felt very relaxed with Cindy and Barry. I enjoyed making scrambled eggs for everyone and we went out for wonderful meals in great restaurants. In her daughter’s bedroom was a tank with a large snake inside. Cindy encouraged me to hold it. I owned reptiles when I was a young girl and that was such a long time ago. It was crazy when she took some pictures for me – the snake began wrapping around my neck!

Several times, I pulled out my guitar and shared my songs with her. She sat nearby in an old rocking chair to listen. At one point, we both sang songs together and the memories from the past were so touching.

During one of our long talks, I felt sad that I couldn’t remember why we had lost touch. Cindy opened up to share many of her feelings with me. I became emotional hearing about the awful things she had endured. I wasn’t truly a good friend back then because I had chosen to withdraw from her. When Cindy summed it up by saying, “Judy, you just wanted to stay in a happy place,” my heart ached.

I felt teary and told her I was sorry. I was sincere. I felt badly to have hurt her and for distancing myself from such a dear friend.

My time with Cindy and Barry was special beyond words. Cindy often gave me credit for meeting her husband. I kept pushing her to go to a dancing event and she finally went. It was there that she met Barry. Watching them together sweet – they truly adored each other.

On my third day, we went on an outing to see the coastal forest near their home. The trail through the majestic redwoods was simply gorgeous. After our hike, Barry took some pictures of me playing my guitar in the forest. In my song “Peaceful and Inspired” the last line is, “I’ll take you home with me.”

I definitely took so much home from my forest trip.

I drove back home to Los Angeles with my son and it was on the day of a rare solar eclipse. Even though we weren’t in the range to see a total eclipse, we put on special glasses to view a partial one. My son told me that it was very cool. He took a picture by putting the glasses over his cell phone.

Our time together and this memory was something we would carry with us for the rest of our lives.

And when I came home, I was ready to get right back where I left off – creating new musical arrangements and singing my heart out.

I share a recent performance of my song at Kulak’s Woodshed where I perform regularly.


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Links to lyrics and other stories about this song: MY SHINING STAR

Click the blue links to hear audio:

My Shining Star Acoustic 1/4/16 Copyright 2016 By Judy Unger

My Shining Star Arrangement Mix 12-230-18

My Shining Star guitar and piano 6-4-18

This song holds so many meanings for me. The most moving part of my song is the line about holding onto our dream forever. A long time ago, grief was a nightmare that destroyed my dream.

But one day, I found my dream again. Even though I have tears when I imagine the dream of how I wished my son had lived, I am grateful for my love for him. He fuels my heart with joy when I create the music that I love.

I am a passionate songwriter and picture myself as a “song gardener.” I continue to grow and develop my songs; they are blooming for me. My life is filled with inspiration. I freely share my music and love what comes back. Nothing feels better for me than knowing my music has helped other people.

A grown man wrote to me and said my meditation music caused him to cry for the first time in 25 years, which helped him release long suppressed feelings of loss. I was extremely moved by his message.

I’ve grown from every part of my journey and learned so much from my former arranger, George. Last December, I began working with a new arranger named Doug. Our relationship is completely different and I have been learning how to arrange songs myself on Protools, which has been very exciting for me. At the beginning of this post, I share my recent arrangement of “My Shining Star.”

My guitar is central to every arrangement and I enjoy creating multiple guitar parts. Despite creating lush arrangements, I prefer my voice to be only with guitar tracks. I plan to share my new arrangements as meditation tracks on Insight Timer soon.

My sessions with Doug usually last four hours and I’m very tired after. I look forward to coming home to edit my recordings.

A month ago, I stopped first to get some gas and saw a message on my phone that grabbed my heart. For five years, I had written to a bereaved mother named Sammi who was very special to me. I felt tears well up in my eyes as I read her heartfelt message.

I thought of Sammi whenever I sang any of my grief-related songs. Just that morning, I had recorded vocals for my song “My Shining Star.” The lyric line that stuck in my head was, “You whisper in my ear to heal.” I was certain that her son whispered those same words in her ear every night.

Five years ago, it was the desolate and hopeless nature of Sammi’s writing that drew me toward her. I felt compelled to counter any hopeless statement she made with gentle disagreement. I wondered sometimes if I annoyed her with my unrelenting positive replies.

But she knew I had been there. I once suffered from desolate grief and it was 18 years before I found true peace and joy again in my life.

I cannot speak for anyone else’s grief – only my own. I am not afraid to express that I have experienced healing. I want to offer proof that healing is possible, especially since I never believed it when I was grieving.

I share below an example of one of my dialogs with Sammi:

Sammi: The nights and early mornings are the worst. I am reminded every single day that my child is dead. The pain of awareness meets me every single morning when I awaken. I dread falling asleep, because I fear waking and facing the pain that I know is waiting. Every single day.

Judy: Sammi, you have accurately described the horrible anguish I remember so well. It was like living within a nightmare. One day, my pain left. Occasionally it knocks on my door, but it has left my room. I pray it will be that way for you someday.

Beliefs are powerful and every person chooses what they want to believe. Those words above that you posted might be true for some people. I’ve known people who died carrying heavy grief.

But for me, I’ve chosen another path. It wasn’t one that I searched for – it just came to me after many years of suffering. I wouldn’t ever say that “time heals.” But for me, healing came and I am thankful for that.



Copyright 2016 by Judy Unger


Shining star so bright

You wink to me every night

Moonlight glows upon my bed

I hear your voice inside my head


Shining star so bright

Surround me with your lovely light

I reach for you in my sleep

You comfort me while I weep


In my heart you will stay

I’ll hold on to our dream forever

The stars above, remind me of our love

Each and every day, wherever you are

You’re my shining star


Shining star so bright

Even though you’re not in sight

With my eyes closed, your breath I feel

You whisper in my ear to heal


Shining star so bright

I’ll dream of you tonight


In my heart you will stay

I’ll hold on to our dream forever

The stars above, remind me of our love

Each and every day, wherever you are

You’re my shining star

 Sammi’s message:

In the beginning, I used to feel lonely on this road. I couldn’t see the others that were traveling it with me. My pain was all-consuming. My heart and soul were ripped out of me and the wound was open and raw. I couldn’t breathe. It hurt to just be. I didn’t know what to do or how to deal with all the sensations that were bombarding me at once.

I was lucky to find a grief site that was small and it was there that I met my friend Judy Unger. I call her my friend because I truly feel like she is. No, we have never met. No, we have never spoken to each other. Yes, we connected in a way that would be hard for others to understand. She knew what I was going through, she knew my pain, she understood. She lost her beautiful son Jason when he was 5-years-old. She knew.

Judy has been with me on the journey even though I hadn’t seen her on this road at times. Why she chose me I will never know but I know that I am truly thankful to have her at the extreme low points on this journey.

I look ahead at the road before me. It is straight and unforgiving. There are no twists or turns. There is only one way to go. Forward. I cannot see an end point. This road fades into the distance. I look behind and I see, off in the distance, black sky, roiling grey clouds, thunder and lightning. The road has deep dark holes that used to cover the entire surface but have lessened to show more road than holes. I can maneuver this part of the road easier. It still has its pitfalls. It will still be wrought with pain. How could it not be? I can, however, walk a bit easier.

I miss so much of what I used to have, but it is good to learn that light is out there. Judy was right.

Judy: I am speechless, Sammi. I read this as I was coming home from a music session. I was exhausted and getting gas for my car. I saw your post with my name there and my eyes welled up with tears.

What a beautiful tribute! I feel like I’ve learned so much about grief alongside of you. Even though I was farther ahead on my grief journey, taking your hand didn’t pull me back – it propelled me farther ahead.

I am honored and quite teary knowing I’ve made a difference for you. You’ve certainly made a difference for me and perhaps one day we will actually meet and hear each other’s physical voices. Until then, our writing connects us and it is a very solid chain. Much love to you.

Sammi: I’m not sure what I could have taught you Judy but if I did, and it helped then I’m glad. I haven’t connected with many who know this journey. I have kept to myself a lot. You are the one that was there from the start.

I always knew I would get a response from you when needed. When I go back to the beginning of this journey and read my first posts, it is so painful – so much heartache. Going through until now I can see where I have made progress and where I have not. I never believed it was possible but…here I am and….so are you.

Thank You.

Judy: I do hope that one day we will have a chance to meet.

Sammi inspired my song “It’s Not Forever” and I share a link to that story:

Story behind IT’S NOT FOREVER-PART 3


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On July 31, I was given the honor of choosing the meditations on Insight Timer (a free meditation app) for the upcoming week. I’ve excerpted part of my recording where I tell my story and I’m excited to share it here.

My speech will be broadcast to the people who signed up for the 365-Day Playlist (55,000 subscribers). It will also be available to those who aren’t signed up. It is a very large audience for me!

I am honest when I say that I felt a little inadequate to speak on the topic of meditation to cope with grief and loss. I did not meditate when I was in deep grief. I do believe deeply in music and healing, which saved me many years later. So to round out my speech, I sought out input from my friends at Insight Timer. I have made connections all over the world that I treasure. My friends were very helpful.

I learned that many people listen to meditation music while driving, walking and/or going to sleep. I do those things. My music gives me joy: it soothes and heals me of all my sorrow. So perhaps I do meditate after all!

I wrote a story recently about meeting the CEO of Insight Timer, Christopher, and his assistant Maddy. It was truly a thrill for me. #547 My Fairy Tale Life.

I’ve created a page that is linked to Insight Timer. I want people who come to my blog to be able to easily navigate stories related to the meditation music that is available on Insight Timer.

My Insight Timer page link is under the header, just above the post title.

Right next to that page is another one I’ve named “Recent Music.” On that page, I have links to hear my most recent music recordings. They are being compiled for my next CD and until then, I’m happy to freely share them.


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A long time ago, I thought it was hopeless that I could take an enjoyable vacation with my three children. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enjoyable most of the time!

I laughed when I noticed one of my ear buds was hanging out of my fanny pack in many pictures. I actually didn’t really listen to music much on my trip. This picture was taken during the time in Seattle before our cruise.

With my sons . . .

and with my daughter.

For some reason, I haven’t felt like writing much about my recent trip. Alaska was beautiful and I was able to spend a lot of time with all three of my children. I adore my kids, but to be honest – the dynamics of all three of them together are something else. I did my best to relax and enjoy my vacation, but I’ve come to the conclusion that my life at home is a vacation!

I treasure my current peaceful life because it wasn’t always that way. Sometimes I look back with awe that I managed to raise children with challenges, oversee my elderly parents’ care, shop for a large household and pay the bills. I did all of this while working as a commercial artist, too.

When I began my blog, it was fabulous therapy for me. Now that I am peaceful, I find myself unsure of what I want to write for my blog. I wait for inspiration to come and spend most of my time pursuing my passion for music.

Even though I am peaceful, I’m still very much attached to the subject of grief and healing. Lately, it has been on the forefront of my mind because I will be sharing my story soon to a large audience on the meditation app named Insight Timer.

I will upload my Insight Timer audio recording on this blog when it’s done. But today I have a story I want to share. Past memories and present moments intersect; when I feel moved I find myself writing again.

I have a good friend – her name is Janis. Her son, David was a good friend of my son, Jason. I have pictures and stories related to their friendship. It has been many years now since Jason died and Janis told me that her son doesn’t remember him anymore. The important part is that my friend helped me through that difficult time and remained my friend. I hold onto that.

Jason loved to sing. In this picture he is singing with his friend David, who is holding Jason’s guitar.

I took Janis out to lunch and for an inexpensive Thai massage on her birthday last year. After our massage, she said, “Judy, this is so wonderful! It’s reasonable and we should do this every month. We’ll put it on the calendar and treat ourselves to it!”

I smiled and agreed. Although we didn’t do it every single month, it became a new routine to add into my peaceful life. And it was always nice to see Janis and catch up with her. Now it would be more often than our usual once or twice a year birthday lunches.

I don’t consider my feet to be “pretty,” but with a pedicure it’s a definite improvement! And it’s another thing I enjoy regularly in my “peaceful life.”

At our most recent lunch/massage last week, we talked about how things were going for our children. I updated my friend on what was new with me. I was back from my Alaska cruise and excited about the new musical arrangements I was creating. But I had received a message a few days earlier. It wasn’t an ordinary message. It was extraordinary.

It came from a woman named Sammi whom I had corresponded with for almost five years. When her adult son died, she was inconsolable. I felt compelled to respond to almost every message she wrote related to her grief. Sometimes, I wasn’t sure that what I wrote was helpful at all. But her recent message thanked me in ways that were too beautiful to describe. It was so inspirational that it deserves another story, which I will write soon.

My post title is a line of lyrics from my song named “It’s Not Forever.” That song was inspired by my dialog with Sammi. I recently recorded a new vocal for my song.

IT’S NOT FOREVER 6/18/17 – Copyright 2016 by Judy Unger

With a few tears, I read aloud Sammi’s message to Janis and she agreed that it was indeed special. At the end the message, Sammi mentioned that I was right about grief becoming easier after five years.

“It’s interesting that she mentioned five years,” Janis said. “After my divorce, I remember hearing that number. Of course, divorce is quite different from the death of a child – so please know I’m not comparing it. But I read a book that talked about how it took about five years to adjust and come out of the tunnel.”

I looked at Janis and said, “I’ve got chills! I separated in July of 2012. Do you realize that next month it will be five years for me? It is so true.”

I added, “I’m thankful my dry eyes are better and I’ve lost weight – I feel healthy again. Oh, and last month, it was also the fifth anniversary of my father’s death.”

I didn’t remember telling my friend, Sammi that her grief would ease in five years. A memory of mine that was buried deeply began to form.

A long time ago, I was given hope that I’d feel better when another bereaved mother told me that it would take seven years. Perhaps I hadn’t had the courage to tell Sammi seven years, I said five years instead.

I could not find any respite during my deep grief. It was horrible and indescribable. There are few words I can find to describe the suffering.

It was like living in a fog, except it was not really living.

During that time period, I remember I had a friend who wanted me to have a pedicure. She spoke very highly of her pedicurist. I never had one before in my life and she gave me a gift certificate to get one for my birthday.

It was the last thing I wanted to do. In my desolate state I somehow followed through and made an appointment with her pedicurist to redeem my gift.

The pedicurist’s name was Maddy. I told her my friend spoke very highly of her and that this was my first time having a pedicure. I think I cried during the entire process and Maddy spoke gently to me. She told me about her son that died from leukemia many years before.

When she mentioned her surviving son, I shared with her my inability to comfort my own surviving son. He screamed nonstop and we watched videos of Jason to help us cope with our grief.

Maddy’s surviving son’s name was Mitch and then a light bulb went off. Her last name rang a bell because I went to middle school with her son! I never knew he had a brother that died and it made me feel very sad for him.

When my pedicure was done, I tearfully hugged and thanked her. She had given me so many words of wisdom to help me with my grief. I was still in a fog, but I felt lighter.

I never saw Maddy again and it was twenty years before I had another pedicure. In my peaceful life, it is something I enjoy having on a regular basis.

But I couldn’t forget Maddy’s words to me.

“It will take seven years for the agony to subside. In seven years you will definitely start to feel better.”

Not long ago, I attended my 40th high school reunion. I even connected with people who didn’t attend the reunion. This was due to a lovely Facebook group/page dedicated to my high school graduating class.

After the reunion, I decided to post something about myself on that Facebook page. Many of the people I met who hadn’t seen me in decades, remembered me as a maze artist. It was a big achievement for me to have published a book of mazes while in junior high.

Link to my story about my mazes:  #2 MY AMAZING JOURNEY

I enjoyed the lovely comments people made who remembered me. And then I saw his name. It was Maddy’s son, Mitch!

I couldn’t believe Mitch still had one of the mazes I drew for him in Junior High! He mentioned how he turned his life around and I decided to ask him about his mother.

With an open heart, I shared my feelings about his mom with him. There was no reason to sidestep mentioning my memories. I wanted to counter the part where he called himself a “stoner.” After experiencing the kind of loss he went through, it explained how he coped with his pain.

I believe everyone has his or her own lonely path to follow with grief. I consider it to be a lifelong journey that led me somewhere else; never back to the place I was in before it happened. I used to mourn that, but now I accept it.

After seven years, my agony did subside. But true healing and joy did not return for me until the rediscovery of music 18 years after my son’s death.

Every day, I am thankful for the miracle of healing in my life.

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