Everyone has favorite form of “therapy,” the things they do to relax, to relieve tension, to reward themselves for completing a big project. When I’m journeying through a period of stress in my life, words and music always offer a balm to my troubled soul. Sometimes it’s writing and playing the piano - physically engaging in activities with music and words.  Other times it’s reading or listening, entering into the ideas and melodies created by others.

During this past month, I relied on all of those therapeutic techniques to get me through the stress and sadness associated with my mother’s illness and death. I read a lot and I wrote a lot, and carried books and journals back and forth to the hospital and the hospice care center. 

A few weeks before my mother went into the hospital, I pre-ordered a copy of Jordan Smith’s CD, Beautiful Things. I hardly ever buy music CD’s anymore, but this young singer (the winner of The Voice, Season 9) is not only incredibly gifted, he’s from a small town in Kentucky not far from my mother’s hometown. She loved watching The Voice, and was so proud of Jordan for not only his talent, but his obvious sweet and giving nature.

The CD arrived in the mail on the day my mom went into hospice care. I was almost afraid to listen to it, especially in the car - afraid I would be overcome with emotion hearing Smith’s crystal clear and powerful voice singing songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Amazing Grace."

But I took a deep breath, and popped the CD into the car player. And yes, some of those songs provoked more tears, but mostly they spoke to my heart in a way that eased the pain.

It’s been four weeks now, and I keep playing that CD over and over. It’s become the soundtrack for an incredibly meaningful time in my life. More than that, it’s become a talisman of sorts, like the journal I’ve been writing in. It’s a connection with my mom, with the intensity of those last days we spent together, days I never want to forget. 

Music has always been a direct link to emotion and sensation for me. It soothes and comforts me in a way nothing else can, but also provides crucial ties to memories and events. Whenever I hear The Eagles song Take It to the Limit, I’m immediately transported back to 1975, driving my silver Trans Am on Telegraph Road with the windows down, singing at the top of my lungs on my way home from college classes. Phil Collins and Elton John remind me of the early days of motherhood, dancing my cranky baby around the living room with records spinning on the turntable. 

And now I have this new music attached to another of life’s milestones. I know there will come a day when I’m ready to eject it from the CD player and move on to other tunes, a day when this music will become nothing more than a catalyst to recall memories that are now still extremely fresh and poignant.

I’m not ready to release this soundtrack from the story of my life just yet, but I’ll keep you posted about what comes next on the playlist. 

Read more about the role of music in my life right now at today's Sunday Salon post on Modern Creative Life.