Song of Healing

This week, we are sharing the first installment of a very special series of blog posts from a wonderful family. The first guest  blogger in this series is a close friend, Amanda, who lost her dear cousin, a Captain in the United States Marine Corps, in a Black Hawk helicopter accident. It was a sudden loss that was hard to make sense of as he was only 31 years old. She considered him a brother because that is the type of closeness that they shared. Amanda describes how music has helped her to heal after this difficult loss.

It's hard to describe my love and need for music. It started very early in my life. In grammar school, serious punishments involved taking away my tapes and boom box. I started making mix tapes back then, and I would bring them on the bus in the morning for the bus driver to play. I made tapes for my cousins when they went on trips, I made them for friends and boyfriends in high school and later CD mixes in college and beyond.

Next to my friends and family, music is what brings joy to my life. It makes me happy, makes me dance, takes me to places outside my own mind, gets me through rough times, and brings out emotions I can’t otherwise express.

Until March 10, 2015, when the music stopped.

My cousin, Captain Stanford H. Shaw III, was in the United States Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC, the Corps’ elite Special Forces) and was a proud Naval Academy graduate.  Ford, as he was known to family and friends, had served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded a Bronze Star Medal.  He was in Florida for a week-long training exercise when the Black Hawk helicopter operated by four members of the Louisiana National Guard that was carrying Ford and six of his Marines, crashed in heavy fog.  All 11 service members on board were tragically killed.

For every other difficult occasion in my life I turned to music. This time I didn't even listen to music. It was on, but I didn't hear it, it wasn't comforting. I was conscious of this happening and it really bothered me. Music always had mended my sadness and my problems in the past. 

I didn't actively seek out music at this time. I was probably just too numb. Ford and I shared a lot over music. Whenever we were together there was music. We talked about certain songs that reminded us of times in our life, of each other, and even of certain days. My two absolutely favorite times with Ford revolved around music. The first was the day we went to see Rock of Ages on Thanksgiving Eve. There are so many facets of that day that I'll never forget.  The second was running our last Turkey Trot together with music at the center of our performance. 

In 2013, Ford invited me to his new home on a coastal island in North Carolina, not far from his base at Camp Lejeune, for a weekend in November to join him and his fiancé at the 238th Marine Corps Birthday Ball. That weekend we hatched a plan to make our running of the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot (“TT”) epic. You have to understand - neither one of us likes to run. We like to run to the bar. We run the TT to make ourselves feel better about gorging at dinner later. Oh yeah, and we run the TT severely hung over from the festivities of the night before!  We thought it would be fun to run to a playlist of our favorite songs. By the end of the weekend we came up with a plan where Ford would run the TT with an old school boom box on his back blasting a playlist I would make. We couldn't pull this stunt off in 2 weeks so we planned it for the next Thanksgiving.

Ford deployed for Afghanistan in early 2014 but he promised he'd be home in time to run the TT. And he was.  To say that TT was epic doesn't do it justice.  It was hilarious. People were impressed with the boom box rigged on Ford’s backpack and some even ran at our snail’s pace just to hear the music, and while we hated every step of the run, we laughed and sang the whole time. We crossed the finish line as I planned to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin’,” a favorite of ours. 

Although the music stopped after losing Ford, I knew my therapy by music would come eventually.

Finally one day out of the blue it happened. I wasn't really aware of it at the time. Zac Brown Band's JEKYLL + Hyde had been released recently and though I started listening to it, I didn't really HEAR it for weeks. Too much was going on in my mind every day. But one day I heard the lyric "love is the remedy." I rewound the song and listened to the lyrics "I've been looking for a sound that makes my heart sing...  Pray to be stronger and wiser, know you get what you give… Love one another". 

The whole song spoke to me. Be a good person, open your heart, remember what’s important in life. Something resonated for the first time in a long time. I started listening to the rest of the songs and was hooked playing the album over and over. There are songs that made my heart soar and those that made me break down in tears because I was still so raw with emotion. One in particular, "Dress Blues," made my heart stop beating when I heard it for the first time.  ZBB covered Jason Isbell’s song written about the passing of a soldier and added a violin playing “Taps” in the middle of the song. Talk about hitting close to home. I was flying a lot for work at the time and after Ford's passing I had especially hard times when I was alone on a plane. I heard this song on a plane and just lost it. "You never planned... on sleeping in your Dress Blues." 

There are stories, articles, and medical research that discuss the healing powers of music. Music is a core function of our brain even though it’s not essential to our survival, and it taps into our emotions. I'm no professional but I've relied on music enough during emotional times to know it heals. That a sad song with a direct parallel to what you’re experiencing in your life can be strangely comforting. That Beyoncé’s fierce attitude can help you get over a breakup.  That an 80s rock anthem can trigger the most personal and emotional response that you both laugh and cry at the same time. Steve Perry of Journey said of "Don’t Stop Believin’," "everybody has emotional issues and problems, and the song has helped me personally to not give up, and I'm finding a lot of people feel that.”

I had finally found the beginnings of my healing through songs.