Mother and Son Reunion: The Power of Music

SunsetBy Gayle Giese

My husband Allen sets up bicycle playlists on his iPhone. He chooses music with a strong beat to match his riding cadence, which translates into a 2mph faster speed and only a vague awareness of passing time. Allen says, “I do about one mile per song, so about 4-minute miles.” The music energizes him. Classic rock, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival or any Doobie Brothers, is the music of the road. One ear hears the music through an earbud while the other listens for traffic. The playlists will be invaluable when Allen is climbing the mountains during Ride to Awareness. Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide” won’t be the best option though. In Texas, he’ll be riding to “China Grove”.

Just as music helps us to ride faster and farther, it is also powerful in opening up our emotions, helping us to know how we feel, and sharing that with others. Sometimes it can be the catalyst to break down barriers, heal wounds, and forge connections. Robin Cole, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Miami-Dade County recently told me an inspiring story of how music helped her to really connect with her son.

She says, “My son (who had been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder) shared a music video of “Fine Again” by Seether with me, saying, ‘This is how I feel about my recovery.’ It was the first time he used the actual word “recovery” or shared his feelings about his journey with me. I was surprised how well the song expressed what I was observing in him. I thought, ‘This is clearly written by someone who has lived recovery.’”

Robin found the courage to share with him a song that always triggered a flood of emotions for her, “Pictures of You” by The Cure. She says, “This song is about love slipping away, and I had watched my son slip away to illness and felt helpless as it was happening. The lyrics say it: ‘If only I’d thought of the right words, I could have held on to your heart; if only I’d thought of the right words, I wouldn’t be breaking apart all my pictures of you.’ When I shared this with him, he told me he knew that song. He said he could understand why I connected to it.”

“We hadn’t talked about our feelings about the effects of mental illness in our lives before this. I would try to ask questions, but they were usually indirect and tentative, not wanting to intrude or push him if he wasn’t ready to talk about it. Music gave us the “language” to have the conversation. It did the talking for us. After we shared the songs, we didn’t need to say much more. For me, I really understood what he was feeling. I think the song “Fine Again” helped my son very much in recovery; just to know someone else feels what you feel helps. I hope my “music” conversation with my son continues. It has been a big part of healing between us. To know he trusts me by sharing a song, sharing his feelings, is precious to me. When he was sick, he didn’t trust me and there were many hurt feelings between us. The music has been healing.”

Very special thanks to Robin Cole and her son for contributing to this blog.

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