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Thursday April 5, 2018


My mother's Hammond special anniversary-edition organ and its worn hymnals have occupied the corner of my small living room for more than five years. Its wood finish bears the scars of time and four self-proclaimed prodigies, my siblings and me. Its only constant companion, a faded wooden stool with nicked legs and a ripped leather seat cover, has become nothing more than a haphazard file for papers that can't be thrown away but really shouldn't be kept. The greatest shame is not the dust it collects. The greatest shame is that it never makes a sound.

The organ's days of preeminent place have passed, and sadly, few grieve its departure. The low mournful notes that bellow from its pipes do not blend well with the happy song  society demands. Whether you prefer its melancholy sound or not, the fact remains that the organ was made for music. Its sad song should not trouble us, but its silence should.

Humans were made for music as well, and no song is always worse than a sad song. In more than one sense, the brain is an organ; it's the conductor of a human symphony. Death and loss slow the musician's movement and turn happy, sentimental tunes into slow songs of deeply-felt pain and despair. Emotions, the musical expressions of the mind, express what words cannot say. Once upon a time, the organ was tasked with saying the unspoken in a silent movie. Light, happy notes introduced spring; fast-paced tunes pushed the audience to the edge of their seats in anticipation of the climax; and a low, slow, eerie score announced an approaching menace. So, the playlist of human experience seems to switch to a slow tempo and melancholy tune as death approaches and passes.

Every sad song tells a story; every note is the soul's expression of longing for something lost. The beauty of the sad song is the depth of the love that inspired it. I'm afraid we try to emotionally skip the tracks we don't want to hear, but sorrow's song has its place and must be heard. Sad songs don't last forever. Let the music play—the album gets better.

Often it's not the sad song born on a dark night that troubles me most. It's when the organ grows strangely still and silent altogether. One of the most difficult, unrecognized symptoms of depression is not the overwhelming sadness that people associate with it. For me, the worst symptom of depression is waking up to the monotonous nothingness. Sometimes, feeling nothing hurts worse than pain. I'd rather hear a sad song than live without music.

People struggling with depression often go untreated because they're not experiencing classic symptoms like sadness. Their depression is just an overwhelming, empty nothingness. It's the longing to close that empty space that pushes some to unwisely pursue whoever or whatever can fill the chair. Still, others go so deep into the expanse of nothingness that they decide the only choice is to cancel the symphony and shut the doors forever. We assume that someone who takes their own life must have been deeply sad, but rarely do we consider that maybe it wasn't sadness, maybe it was a sense of nothingness that convinced them to give up.

If music makes the world go round, then the world must come to a standstill when the music stops. Imagine the numbness or pain of an inner life without the music of the mind. Has the show stopped? Are you overwhelmed with the sound of silence? Perhaps it's time to explore why the music stopped. If the organ is plugged in but will not play, it's not a problem with the song, it's a problem with the instrument. A broken organ doesn't need to be thrown away, it needs repairing. The brain is really not so different. We were not wired for perpetual nothingness. If you are struggling alone with the loud sound of silence, please seek help from an experienced repairman. Talking to a friend, renewing a commitment to faith, seeing a doctor, and even taking medication may be necessary steps to bringing the music back.

Organs break, and there's no shame in calling for outside help to bring the music back. You were made for music. Don't settle for the silence when you were created for the symphony.

—Ben Webb, Guest Contributor

Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care offers free grief support to the community at large. For more information, contact us today at 336-789-2922 (toll-free 1-888-789-2922).

Tags: Grief Support