Troubling Triggers

Without question my grief trigger over the last three years has been music. From day one music has triggered for me sadness and pain. I can honestly say that I hated music, I hated everything about it and I found it nearly inescapable no matter how fast I tried to run from it. The sound of music is everywhere and it pierced my soul with pains so that even background music in a TV commercial would cause me to cry. I made every effort to shut music out of my life to reduce the triggers of grief it caused.

The following video is one of Jacob performing a song he wrote only 4 months before he died.


The music trigger for me was set off every Sunday that I sat in church. I found myself in the deepest pain when the people sang. I do not sing, nor do I yet feel compelled to sing in church. I listen to the voices, I pray and I try to focus on worship while greatly anticipating the music ending and the sermon beginning.

I have been able to measure my healing by my ability to listen to music. I have moved from hatred of music, to tolerating it, to now being able to tune it in with only minimal grief. It has been uncanny how each anniversary of Jacob’s death marks a recognisable step in the healing process for me. I have noticed that the trigger of music is not what it once was at this three-year anniversary mark.

My heart is healing and not so heavy, music doesn’t make me shudder in pain like it once did. King Solomon wrote a proverb that perfect describes how I have reacted to the troubling trigger of music. “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” (Proverbs 25:20)

Grief Changes and triggers lighten

My wife Stacey has discovered Kenny Chesney’s satellite station called No Shoes Radio. Silence is usually what I am tuned into when we drive together but lately on the road I have tuned into her favorite station. I have been able to listen, but not without an occasional pull at my heart which I try to endure that the healing may continue in my soul.

Coming home from Chicago a couple weeks ago I heard a song by Kenny for the very first time. As soon as the song began Stacey turned and said to me, “You can turn it off.” I responded by saying “No, it will help me heal.” The song is called Who You’d Be Today.  It was hard to listen to and made for difficult driving as I pondered his words.

Time does not heal all wounds but I am discovering that time does change the troubling triggers of grief. With time grief becomes manageable and the triggers come less often. Who knows, maybe next year I will be able to sing in church once again, or maybe I will play my harmonica again. Time will tell because time changes everything.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 4


Even the birds have a song

I still have no song in my heart and I feel almost unchristian to make such an honest confession. I do not make melody in my heart, or whistle a tune or catch myself humming a hymn. My harmonica is tarnished and dusty from lack of use and I have not desired to play it in a long time. I am not nearly as pained by the sound of music as I was 28 months ago but I still react and withdraw from much of it most of the time.

I can evaluate my grief and sorrow by the way I react to music. I know I have a ways to go in my healing by the response I feel in my heart. Solomon said, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes of a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.” (Proverbs25:20) I know the chill that he speaks of and have experienced the explosive internal reaction that is described in this truth.

My church family stand to sing praise to God and I feel no compulsion to join in but am rather satisfied to just pray and listen to the harmony of their praise. I wait eagerly for the last note of music to be over so I can listen to the sweet sound of the word of God. I am an enigma I suppose, few people in this world can get through a day without music but I happen to be one of them.

Solomon had the wealth to purchase his own personal singers and musicians and he said in his pursuit of meaning that it was all an empty endeavor (Ecclesiastes 2:8). Some may wonder if I even have joy without a song to sing but I can assure those who might doubt that I definitely do. I affirm with the greatest songwriter ever that my joy, like his joy, is found someplace other than music. Actually many of the songs David wrote were the epression of his deepest joy that he found in the word of God. He said, “The precepts of he Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” (Psalm 19:8) and “My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.” (Psalm 119:172)

My joy is found in the same place as David but is expressed differently than song.
I want a song in my heart again. I really don’t like this about myself and as I said, I feel very unchristian because of it. It is unnatural. Even nature sings the praises of God their creator, this truth became alive to me each morning as I watched the son rise in Mexico. The birds sang beautifully, the waves roared loudly and the palms clapped their hands in the wind. Yet here I sit, without a song on my lips- it is natural for all God’s creatures give him praise and certainly we who are made in his image should shout to the Lord as well.

The only exception I can find in the bible is the one I quoted at the start. I guess I still walk with a heavy heart and only God and time can mend the broken hearted. Some morning I will awaken and sing a new song and someday I truly believe that I will hear God himself sing over Israel. For he has promised them this, “Fear not O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:16-17)

Even so, come Lord Jesus and sing over us all.



The day the music died

Those closest to me know that I never listen to music, at least not deliberately anyway. It has became particularity difficult for me after Jacob died to listen to songs about lost love and the disappointments of life . Music is penned from the soul of people and while it brings comfort to many I have found mostly pain in it all. Music rubs at my raw soul the wrong way I suppose, so I choose to shut it out of my life.

I do not have a playlist or any downloaded music on any of my apple devices, Pandora was deleted long ago and the radio in my truck only displays the time for me. I have wished, and actually prayed that this would change for me but up to this point I still struggle with it. The day that Jacob died is the day that the music died in me.

After he died I found myself literally running to escape music. I could say with honesty that I hated it because of what it would do to my heart when I heard it. I cannot, and have not found comfort in music. I remember sitting in a Burger King as I tried to choke down a chicken sandwich while enduring Elton John’s classic hit, “Sad songs.” I sat there and sobbed alone that afternoon hating music and hating the fact that it was inescapable and everywhere around me. Why is it that Elton John can find a gentle touch in a sad song and I get a sucker punch to the stomach? Even simple TV commercial riffs have caused me to quickly grab the remote to avoid getting the wind knocked out of me.


Turn them on, turn them on
Turn on those sad songs
When all hope is gone
Why don’t you tune in and turn them on
They reach into your room
Just feel their gentle touch
When all hope is gone
Sad songs say so much

The cutting edge of the knife has dulled some over time, thankfully it’s not as bad as it was. In the onset of grief I would actually get queasy and shaky when certain genre’s of music were heard. It became difficult to escape from the noise and my awareness of it became extremely heightened. Music is everywhere and is impossible to be totally free of in this world, though I try, it still finds me and catches me off guard and punches my soul.

I realize I am a bit of an enigma when it comes to my contempt for music. Most who grieve find a place of comfort and peace in it, I am glad about that because my son and daughter have been comforted by it. Music has been a healing balm for them.

Jacob had a beautiful voice, he loved to sing and play his guitar. He was an old soul, he appreciated the music of Johnny Cash and Willy Nelson and was somewhat critical of contemporary musicians. He sang in choral groups when in high school and would occasionally play and sing at church, weddings and funerals. Three months before his own death he sang the Old Rugged Cross and Amazing grace at his granny’s funeral. He wanted me to accompany him with the harmonica but I decided to opt out. I regret that decision sometimes but I figure that I have been spared a bitter sweet memory.

I have taken out my harmonica and played a couple of times in the last 22 months. I hope that someday music can be a part of my life again. March 26th, 2014 is the day the music died for me and sadness replaced my song.


I sit in church and wonder what Jake is singing for Jesus in heaven. I have yet to find my song in a worship service. As a sojourner in earth I feel like the captive Jews of years ago who who hung their lyres in the willows. “For our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? (Psalms 137:3-4) 

Someday in heaven I will sing a new song with my son. Someday I hope to play a harmonica with Jacob singing Amazing Grace…how sweet the sound. Till then the sound of music is not so sweet to me. By the grace of Christ I hope that in time music in this life will no longer be bitter to me but sweet once again. Someday… perhaps.



Smiles of sadness; A letter to my deceased son

Dear Jacob,

I have been especially weepy and sad lately. There is a sadness that is with me that dampens my life like a misty morning walk. I think about the family allot, especially you son; mostly of you Jacob. I want to be happy, I laugh and smile on my journey but I have constant sadness in my heart. The smiles are not forced they are real, yet the kind of happiness I once knew died with you and the others. I suppose I cannot recover that kind of happiness ever again. I wish I could regain a cheerful song in my soul again. Someday perhaps, or perhaps never in this lifetime.

I am on a foggy road and sometimes I cannot tell whether it is good or bad. Music drones everywhere and has been a particular torment to me. My heart will not permit me to be completely happy and the blues give me the blues. I want to escape every happy melody and run from the sad dirges of lost love. I have hung my harp on the willows and I never care to hear a tune; I have rarely picked up my harmonica to play since you died. There is much sorrow in song and all the laughter seems senseless to me; it is all painful noise to me now. I sit in the pew and I do not sing, I listen and I weep. I wonder if you sing to God, I wonder what you sing to God with that beautiful voice he blessed you with.

I walk with your mom on a fractured path. Nothing is the same and it can never be the same, it seems like a dream but this dream is now our life. All the family gladness has a tone of sadness of what was and can never be again. Family laughter is a faint and fading echo in our empty house. We are here, we are in your childhood home but there are no birthday celebrations, no dinner table talks, no Christmas morning family time no late night baseball games. There is silence and the silent house makes me sad. Yet there is a comfort here because this is where you lived, loved and left us behind.

What you wanted most for your sister has happened. She is married and she is truly happy and yet they are forever sad at the same time. I hear your brothers laugh and it make me happy, it does my heart good to hear it, yet it hurts because he no longer has a brother in his life. I have 3 brothers and now he is left alone; this saddens me too. You were always so proud of them both, you were a wonderful brother to them.

I hurt, I wish the pain away yet I know it’s here to stay. It builds and builds until a day like today when the tears flow and sadness finds its release. Grief is without containment, it finds a way of release whether in good or bad ways. I wish I could say that only good has come of it for myself, but to believe that would be to believe a lie. I am different, I am better and I am worse in so many ways. I pray to be shaped in a good way and that the work of God would not be resisted by me. Yet I am just a man, prone to failure and weak in my flesh. God help me.

Your mom; what can I say about your mom? Your mom has few words for her hurt, she is afraid to cry because the crying may never stop. Grandma came to see you six weeks after you left us. Life got twice as hard and she is carrying allot of sadness as well. She is strong and we are stronger together than when you left us. I see her words in her eyes, they tell me things that only I can understand. Her faith has given me strength and I thank God for giving me a wife that helps me in my many weaknesses.

Your remembered by us every day. I recently walked and thought of you on a stoney Alaskan beach and I cried with each step.DSCN1866 I saw beauty and desired that your eyes could have seen the things I saw, yet my eyes have yet to see the beauty that you now behold. I wanted to hear your voice, see that crooked smile and enjoy that gargled laugh of yours. I walked alone and I walked sad as I missed your presence on that far away beach, your in my heart every day. Your never forgotten, your life mattered to all you touched- you made an impact and people are different because of you. Your life has changed me for the good.DSCN1894

Some memorial tattoos have been inked on some special people. Shawn, YoYo, mom, Ed have all done something special to honor your life. Jared and I have ours coming; yeah Jake I want to get a tattoo. They do mean something, mine is on the front cover of my bible on a sticky note. Do you remember what you wrote? “Smile dad, your son loves you- Jake” I am smiling son, I’m just sad with a smile on my face.FullSizeRender-9

Wishing I could hold you…until then I will have smiles of sadness

I love you- dad