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, and it’s interesting that my mother was the baby, too. I remember seeing a photo where my mother was cradling me as an infant. She glowed and beams of love shot out of her face and eyes. Throughout my childhood, she always told me I was “the little girl she dreamed of having.”

My mother wasn’t perfect and I had issues with her as many mothers and daughters do. But I never doubted how much she loved me. Her essence was completely about loving all of her children.

I composed my song “You Were There” during a time when it became clear to me that my mother would soon be gone. It’s ironic that the melody and chords I chose for my new song came from an old instrumental named “Farewell.” My new song certainly was a song a farewell.

Because my mother was always my confidant, I was sad when she could no longer relate to me because of her advancing dementia. There were so many things that I longed to share with her. Music was my miracle during this time and helped to fill my emptiness. It was beautiful for me that even with dementia my mom understood I was happy. That mattered to her more than anything else.

Unlike losing a child, I know it is expected and the natural order of things to lose a parent. But throughout my life, I was terrified of facing that loss. I remember telling a friend that I could not survive without my mother. She took the time to write me a card telling me how concerned she was about what I had told her. She was certain I’d survive and shared her encouragement.

As I wrote the lyrics for “You Were There,” I noticed a huge shift with my 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 all 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 make a difference and changing the word “look” to “still see” made a huge difference for my song.

The energy of looking for my mother’s love was sad. It could be an endless search and with “I’ll still see your love everywhere” I felt uplifted. I projected that she would live on. I wouldn’t have to look for her love; I would see it all around me.

“You Were There” lifted me from despair to acceptance. Shortly before my mother died, I wrote these words:

My mother is 88 years old. She has become increasingly frail and her decline with dementia these last few years has been unstoppable. But her love for me always permeates. I’m grateful she still recognizes me.

I thought I was ready for this. My mother who was so close to me left my world three years ago. She was replaced with a shadow of her former self. Despite her ferocious ability to cling to life, it has been difficult to watch her struggle.

I often wonder, how will I remember her? This frail, sweet woman was not the woman who danced through stores shopping with me and accompanied me to all my childrens’ doctor appointments. She usually planned my birthday months in advance. With her decline, I pretended she still had awareness even though she had no idea about calendar days. I would just buy myself a birthday gift and show it to her while thanking her for loving me so much. Despite her advanced dementia, she would glow hearing my words.

My mother is weak and clearly exhausted. There’s never a good time to lose someone you love. My song has taken me to a place above the pain and sorrow I have camped in. The valley of sadness is below me and I have crested onto a beautiful peak. The vistas in every direction allow me to fully appreciate my remarkable journey.

Just as I anticipated, losing my mother was very different than losing my child. But I still felt tremendous grief when she died. The experience of her death was wrenching, because it was horrible to see her suffer for days.

Once upon a time, I was innocent. I feared grief but had no idea what it felt like. My first experience of seeing grief was when my mother lost her mother; her grief was terrifying. I had never seen her sob aloud before and intense sadness permeated her for a long time. I wasn’t very close with my grandmother, so I wasn’t as affected.

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.

“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.”

I was envious of my mother’s deep religious faith. I didn’t feel the same way and this was challenging for me. The lyrics of “You were so strong” accurately describe my mother’s character while I was growing up. It was difficult for me to separate myself and I never wanted to disappoint her, but I also needed 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 mother in a therapy session. After that session, she apologized and accepted our differences.

I was able to move on from our conflict and we became close again after I became pregnant with my first child. My mother devoted herself to helping me with my son, Jason. He was very fragile due to a severe heart defect. She helped me feed him and knew amazing ways to get him to stop crying so that I could sleep.

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

This story could not be complete if I didn’t acknowledge 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.

In 2009, my mother was near death and on a respirator. I was frantic and terrified. She was my cheering squad; she was the one who would applaud everything I did and made me feel important.

I had to face the fear I had always carried. I could not live without my mother, my best friend. All of my sadness and grief surfaced. Then something amazing happened to me and it was a real life 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. And all of it was because of her.

As she continued fading, I became a brighter light and just 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.

My song lyrics for “You Were There” flowed out easily from my heart. The lines of my song 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.”

There are many stories I could write about what I went through the many times where my mother fell down. I truly feel like I picked her up. She ended up on a respirator, after surgery to repair a broken shoulder. When she broke her hip later on, I refused to allow any surgery to repair it. I had not forgotten the ordeal of when she was on a respirator.

I learned “just how strong I could be” when I faced down so many doctors and medical personnel who attempted to convince me that no one ever refused surgery to repair a broken hip. I was told without repair my mother would be bedridden and die rather quickly. She was put on hospice, and it was miraculous that she was able to stand and walk again. Two years later she was still alive.

Unfortunately, my mother still had rapidly progressing dementia. The mother who had comforted me growing up was now childlike. When she was afraid, I was the parent who reassured her that she was safe.

I shared my song “You Were There” with my mom shortly after I wrote it. I was stunned when she said, “Your song is too sad, and it’s too soon. Maybe later on, but not now.” I realized that she didn’t want to think about leaving and had great difficulty speaking about anything related to death. So this made sense to me and I wasn’t hurt.

I did replay “You Were There” for her another time. This is what I wrote to describe it at that time:

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 seat belt, 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.

What is especially healing for me about “You Were There,” is that I confronted my lifelong fear of losing my mother. I grew up in an environment of fear surrounding death. My mother had it with 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 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 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 an animal. Hopefully, that love fills your heart with gratitude for every moment and for the 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, too.

I am less afraid of the day when I might become the child and my children will scold me. But come to think of it, that’s already started happening. I can only hope that when I’m gone, that 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.