Recordings: (Vocal, Piano Solo, Guitar & Piano)


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Copyright 2018 by Judy Unger

All my life, every day; you were there

when I’d need you, all the time

I just knew; you’d be there

and you’d see me through

I’ve always known, I’m not alone . . .

You were so strong; you’d pick me up when I’d fall down

so I can see all your strength is in me

Although I try, it’s hard to say goodbye

to someone whose loved me all of my life

and when I’m sad, because you’re not there

I’ll still see your love everywhere

Everything that I did you’d applaud; you were right there

watching me as I grew

sharing joy and my heartache, too

I always knew, that I had you . . .

Now I’m so strong; I picked you up when you fell down

I’ve learned to see just how strong I could be

Although I try, it’s hard to say goodbye

to someone whose loved me all of my life

and when I’m sad, because you’re not there

I’ll still see your love everywhere

When you are gone, I’ll say a prayer

and I’ll remember how you were there

I was very fortunate to grow up in a household filled with love. I was the baby in my family, as my mother was in hers. I remember a photo of my mother cradling me as an infant. Beams of love shined from her eyes. Throughout my childhood, she always told me I was the little girl she had always dreamed of having.

My mother wasn’t perfect, and I had issues with her as many mothers and daughters do. I never wanted to disappoint her, but it was difficult for me to separate myself in order to live my own life. When I was in my mid-twenties, it took guidance from a therapist to help me finally express my feelings to my mom during a therapy session. She apologized and things were awkward for a while after that, but I never doubted how much she loved me.

In time, I was able to move on from our conflict, and we became especially close after I became pregnant with my first child. Sadly, my first-born son Jason was very fragile due to a severe heart defect.

My mother devoted herself to helping me. I was so grateful because Jason was extremely difficult to feed and would cry for hours. It wasn’t until years later that I learned she was one class short of graduating with her Bachelor’s degree. She had taken classes for over a decade and dropped out when Jason was born to help me.

She truly shared my heartache and joy as I struggled with the many challenges of motherhood. When Jason died, she sobbed, “This is the worst thing that could happen to my daughter!” For many years she deeply mourned her beautiful grandson and cried along with me. My mother made sure he was never forgotten and sent me cards on his birthday and death day for as long as she was able to.

Unlike losing a child, I know it is the natural order to lose a parent. But throughout my life, I was terrified of facing that loss and couldn’t imagine living without my mother.

I composed my song “You Were There” during a time when it became clear to me that my mother was fading from my life. The melody and chords I chose for my new song came from an old instrumental named “Farewell.” Ironically, my new song certainly was also a song of farewell.

As I wrote the lyrics for “You Were There,” I noticed a huge shift away from fear of losing my mother. This is what I wrote:

All of the things I used to fear are not scary anymore. I understand about losing my mother and my father. I even understand that the time will come when I will die. When that time comes, I will let God know how thankful I am for the gifts I was given.

 My song wasn’t finished until the last line fell into place. Initially, I wrote these words: “When you’re not there, I’ll look for your love everywhere.”

Words can make such a powerful difference with how I feel. By changing the words “look for” to “still see,” my song became reassuring. The energy of looking for my mother’s love was sad; it could be an endless search. But with “I’ll still see your love everywhere,” I felt uplifted. I would see her love all around me.

Just as I anticipated, losing my mother was very different from losing my child. It wasn’t a black hole. Seeing her suffer was so wrenching, that I felt relieved when it was all over.

Once upon a time, I feared grief but had no idea what it felt like. When my mother lost her mother, I was about 6 years old. I had never seen her sob aloud before and it was terrifying. I had no idea how to respond. Her grief was intense and lasted for many years.

Not long after my mother’s death, I came across some of my mother’s writing about her grief in a box of old pictures. It helped to comfort me when I read how she felt with the passing of her own mother. She wrote:

“Mom was so special. I could never start my day without a call to mom. How I missed those daily telephone calls to her. She seemed to get happy if I was happy, even when she felt under the weather, and if I was troubled, she of all people knew I was troubled without my saying a word. I just talked to her and listened to her wise advice, and somehow I wasn’t troubled as much anymore.

That contented satisfied feeling after a visit with mom can never be again. I’ve faced up to the reality that she is physically no longer here, and that I can never again hear her voice. I feel she will always be with me in spirit. I shall never forget her love, her devotion, her kindness and her sweetness to me for as long as I live.”

The lyric lines from “You Were There” that touch me most are the two that describe how I went from being the child, to becoming the parent. With the words “me” and “you, I first say: “You picked me up when I fell down,” and then I say: “I picked you up when you fell down.”

I do have memories of my mother picking me up as a child. My mother was strong and powerful. Even my father cowered when she was angry at him.

But with age, everything changed. Unfortunately, my mother had rapidly progressing dementia. The mother who had comforted me growing up became childlike. Now when she was afraid, I was the strong one who reassured her she was safe.

This story would not be complete without mentioning that it was my mother’s decline, which led me to rediscover my music and songs. The aging process crept into our relationship gradually. My mother, who had been so strong, became weaker. Because she pushed herself, she fell many times and each episode resulted in more damage to her mind and body.

When my mother was near death and on a respirator, I was frantic. She was my cheering squad; the one who would applaud everything I did. I had to face the fear I had always carried. How could I live without my mother, my best friend? All of my sadness surfaced. Then something amazing happened, a true miracle. I prayed that my mother would not die. At that time, I didn’t believe in God. I just had so much love for her.

And suddenly, the love my mother gave me began to bloom inside of me. I expressed my feelings about losing her through writing. This in turn caused me to embrace music. She had nurtured every one of my talents with her love. My fear dissolved and was replaced by joy. I found my voice and began to sing again.

As she continued fading, I became a brighter light and kept getting stronger and stronger. And the most beautiful part was that I was able to share it with my mother because she recovered. I shined my light on her and she could see that I was happy. Everything she wanted for me came to pass. I was no longer suffering with grief. My children blossomed into wonderful human beings who also carried her love.

I shared my song “You Were There” with my mom shortly after I wrote it. My tribute to her wasn’t well received and at first, I thought she didn’t understand it due to her dementia. But she surprised me with an articulate sentence. She said, “Your song is too sad, and it’s too soon. Maybe later on, but not now.”

I was disappointed, but it helped me when I remembered that she had great difficulty speaking about anything related to death. My mother wasn’t ready to think about leaving. But there was another time later on when I was able to share “You Were There” with her. This is what I wrote to describe that memory:

I was driving my mom back to the nursing home after our outing to see a specialist. Due to her advancing dementia, she was almost mute now. I was glad to fill the silence with music. The sweet notes of my song began to fill my car and all of my sadness dissipated. My heart was bursting with joy.

I looked over at my mother and her eyes were closed. I softly mouthed the words to my song; my eyes were glistening in the sunlight. We were at a stoplight and I felt compelled to lean close to my mother. I whispered in her ear, “This song is for you, mom. Every word is absolutely true!” I was surprised when she lightly nodded. My song was almost over. It softly ended with violin strings playing the last note. I parked and turned off the engine. As I gently unbuckled my mother’s seatbelt, she opened her eyes.

“I loved seeing you for lunch, mom. Did you like my song?”

Her lips softly moved. Her words were clear and soft. I was stunned. Like sweet notes of wind chimes, what my mother had clearly spoken aloud continued to reverberate through my mind.

Over and over, I heard her whispered words.  “I like it. It’s beautiful.”

I’ve missed my mother since her death, but with my strength I’ve learned to be my own best friend. My mother was all about love. I smile just like she always did. Her love remains constant. Even death cannot separate us.

In “You Were There,” I confronted my lifelong fear of losing my mother. I grew up in an environment of fear surrounding death. My mother feared the loss of her mother. They never talked about it. My mother didn’t want to hear my song initially, because it clearly talked about death. But it bridged a huge gap of silence on this topic for me. Facing my fears gave me comfort and acceptance.

The love from both my parents is something I will always be grateful for. But I am wondering how my story could resonate for someone who did not receive the same support in his or her life.

“You Were There” describes devotion. I believe it’s never too late to devote yourself to a loving relationship, whether it’s a family member, a friend, a passion, or even a beloved pet. Hopefully, those connections fill your heart with gratitude and love. Treasured moments become precious memories.

I’ve described a chain of love in my family starting with my grandmother. It connected my mother to me and also to my own children. I am there for them, now and forever.

I am less afraid of the day when I might become the child and my children will scold me. As a side note, it drives me crazy because they’ve started doing it already. I can only hope that when I’m gone, my children will continue to see my love everywhere around them.

I end this story with a three-paragraph tribute to my mother named “She Was There,” that helped inspire my lyrics.


I was an adult in my early 20s. Suddenly, I felt like a baby again, with the flu. I was home alone and I could barely move. “I’ll be fine,” I told my mom on the phone. A moment later, I opened my eyes and there she was holding a cool washcloth. She wiped my forehead and patiently gave me a bowl of chicken soup. She was there.

It was the kind of fatigue that was beyond being alleviated by sleep. I was full of an intense, restless anxiety while at the same time my eyelids were as heavy as bricks. The night was giving way to dawn. I had gone another night without a single moment of sleep. Jason wouldn’t stop crying; he was only a few weeks old. I wondered: Would I be able to continue this pace of trying to feed this impossibly sick child without any sleep? The doorbell rang. Jason was still crying as I opened the front door. She was there.

There was no reason to get up; I didn’t want to move. I was under the covers. I had no tears left and my body was completely spent from crying for days and days. It had been a few months since Jason died and my husband had gone back to work. No one was home. Even though I heard the doorbell, I ignored it. I wanted to die. She let herself in with a key and my bedroom door opened. She pulled down the covers, curled up next to me. She held me and together we cried. She was there.