Grief is a personal thing, and sometimes finding ways to deal with it can be hard. I was blessed to have been informed about a group, related to my church, for widows and widowers that I joined shortly after Michelle passed. There I have been able to talk with people who share the experience of losing the person that we all thought we were going to spend the entirety of this mortal life with. None of us planned on being alone at this stage of our lives. For some it was a sudden occurrence for others like myself it was a slower process which gave us some warning. Regardless we all share a bond and being a part of that group has propelled me far further along my path of reconciling my grief then I expected to be at this time. I attended my first widow and widowers conference in Idaho only 5 weeks after Michelle passed, I honestly questioned if I was ready for such an event, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed. While there I got a lot of direction, not just from people who have been walking this road well before me, but also from Michelle and from my Heavenly Father.
One of the great lessons I have learned is that crying is not a bad thing. Trying to hold back emotions can work against you and leave you stuck. The release of those emotions can generate energy that can then be channeled to work for your benefit. And tears are not a weakness, having a full on breakdown might be exactly what you need to take you where you need to be, perhaps to your knees asking for assistance. My continued tears are a gift to my wife, a sign that I remember and celebrate her, that she still means the world to me and that her absence is felt.
In January I was blessed with the opportunity to actually give a short presentation on how I was using music to facilitate my grief at another conference I attended. So I thought I might share it here. This is a cut down version since the usually process can span upwards of an hour and a half listening to complete songs not just snippets. It was an experience doing this before a small audience live as I went from cracking open the doors, to letting out the flood, to riding the wave to standing again on solid ground in about fifteen minutes, complete with lip syncing to the songs (perhaps some day I'll do this again live and record it). In the meantime grab a tissue and enjoy.
Grief through Music
Guiding Grief With Music
Cameron Kaley – January 2019
I’m going to take you for a little ride through how music has propelled me forward in handling the loss of my wife 4 months ago. Music has helped me to hold onto memories, it has helped me unlock the sadness and let the tears flow when I feel stuck. I can use it to facilitate a full-on breakdown that lasts 30 minutes and then slowly pull myself out of it to continue on with my day, rather than just lying in a funk for hours on end. I have a list of song snippets to share with you, to give you a glimpse into my mind. So please listen closely as you join me in letting music guide my grief.
There are dozens of songs that I have compiled into a playlist that I started after my wife passed. It started as an attempt to not forget those songs that meant so much to us while she was here. But then there are songs like that one that came after her passing and remind me that so long as I hold onto my memories of her, she will remain close to me.
Other songs have been a part of my life for the past 22 years back to where we met when I was 17 and she was still 16 in the summer of 1996.
I will always see that snarky 16-year-old girl making faces at me as she sang that song and many others. She knew how to tease me like no one else. It seems weird that that was our song, but she introduced me to the gospel and then left me in the hands of the missionaries to find my own way. Still that summer we had many a discussion about God.
Fast forward 2 years and we were married, and this was the first song we danced to as husband and wife.
Now in our 20 years of marriage we had our fair share of differences, she was a classical ballerina who liked top 40 and I was a heavy metal, rock and roller. I found many a song that might not have been her taste, but I associated those songs with her none the less
I have songs from the 80s, the 90s and today that remind me of her and how much she meant to me. Some that remind me of my short comings as a husband and things that I don’t want to repeat in the future, some that remind me of the trials that we overcame together.
One of those trials took place in March of 2016 as I faced being laid off and out of work for 2 months. And now looking back on that time a song that she always loved has taken on new meaning to me in retrospect.
You see I lost my job but ended up getting a new one that allowed me to work from home, which seemed cool at the time, but months later in September of 2016 that trial of losing my job ended up being one of the greatest blessing of my life as my wife received her cancer diagnosis and we began a 2 year battle, where I was able to be by her side every day, now that I worked from home
That right there is the start, where when my emotions seem like they are stuck behind a damn I can trigger them, I can have the controlled grief session when I need to get it all out, before I start to put myself back together.
For 2 years she battled. But in May of 2018 the doctors announced the cancer had spread to her brain and that there were now 13 large tumors, 2 of which were hemorrhaging severely. She immediately started 15 rounds of full brain radiation and lost all freedom to go where she pleased as she was a major seizure risk. But in June, at the dance recital for the girls that she taught, and unbeknownst to me, this strong woman that had just lost all her hair due to radiation took the stage and danced a final solo to this song
She danced, and she left it all out on that stage, proving that through the trials she faced that fighting spirit could not be dimmed. Weeks later she would suffer her first and only seizure, but it would be the catalyst to leave her weakened and facing the final days of her mortality. As she lay there one night this song came up randomly on her phone
That song has helped me find peace as I opened myself to the guiding light of our Savior who helped me find peace while I tried to understand the path that I would have to tread without her physically by my side.
It was a slow decline over 2 months, but again I was by her side through it all. And on the evening of September 11th I resolved to let her know that she could return home. Early in the morning of September 12th she returned to her Father, as she passed peacefully from this world. I was given the strength to give her eulogy and together her friends, and the community upon which she had had such an impact sang together this song.
I was again reminded how great the gospel of Jesus Christ is that I will see her again, for she was a faithful servant that fulfilled her mandate in this life. And with this knowledge and these songs behind me I can prepare myself to emerge from my grief to not move on but move forward. To hold my head up high as she did when she took the stage that one last time. She was an inspiration to me while she was alive, and I look forward to that day when I will again see her in the flesh.
I will not forget her, I will regularly shed a tear for her, both in sadness for the things that will not be, as well as for the joy that she brought into my life, that I never could have imagined at 17 years old. And I will continue to find new songs that remind me of the past and give me hope for the future. And nothing is off the table because sometimes I need to cry, and sometimes I need a good 2 tone ska beat to get me up and moving as I simultaneously remember her and dance my way forward as I know she would want me to
Her life was a celebration of how to go out with dignity and joy. And I am grateful that through music I can remember the past, grieve for what was lost, and find joy in the journey.
The music plays on
So did you make it through? That's a taste of the music I use, I have an ever expanding playlist dedicated to Michelle. Some songs that make me laugh, some make me cry, some fill me with the resolve to hold my head high and seize the day. That list will continue to expand as the years go on and I will continue to use it to remember the good times and in doing so I will picture Michelle with a smile on her face dancing her way through life and through the eternities.
So you've already gotten a good deal of music on this post but what the heck, here is the last song I added to the playlist. How did I not know about this band sooner? I have no idea but man I know we would have loved them together, guess we still get to.
My name is Michelle Kaley but I have many other names.....Daughter, Sister, Wife of 20 years to my High School Sweetheart, Mom to my 4 Beautiful Children, Ms. Michelle to my hundreds of Students, and as of 2016 Cancer Patient was added to the list.