This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2004 (Morris County NJ) Daily Record and on the Daily Record web site.
Mother's grief is expressed in word and song
It has been said the loss of a child is almost impossible to survive.
It has also been said that art saves lives.
So if any good is to come from such deep loss, it might come as little surprise that it is delivered through the pen of an author and the instrument of a songwriter.
Lorraine Ash, author of the newly published NewSage Press book "Life Touches Life: A Mother's Story of Stillbirth and Healing," will pair up with singer-songwriter Kathy Moser, whose songs "Angel of Grace" and "Ghosts in the Kitchen" also deal with loss, for a series of appearances to celebrate the book's release. The first is Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. at Borders in Rockaway Township.
But the reason these two artists are joining forces has a lot more to do with the healing power of art and the survival of love even after a death.
Ash, who with her husband, Bill, lost a child to stillbirth after carrying baby Victoria Helen for a full nine months, said when she first heard Moser's song "Angel of Grace" she was deeply moved. Moser, of Chester, writes in the song about a friend whose child lived only 33 minutes after being born prematurely at 22 weeks.
Realizing that stillbirth loss, though a very specific thing, carried elements of universal loss and grief, Ash, a Daily Record features writer for 14 years who lives in Allendale, said one thing she gained from the stillbirth experience was an expanded ability to connect to all kinds of people better and more deeply than before.
"There's a territory called loss, you could say, in which we all meet because we're all going to lose," Ash said. "Kathy's song 'Angel of Grace' just touched me as perfection, really, because it encapsulated the exact kind of grief that I experienced and that I now know is a universal thing.
"Her other song 'Ghosts in the Kitchen,' even more so, gets to that point of it being universal. (It says) 'We are the love after the fire.' After the loss, after the great pain that's coming - that's inevitable in some form or other - what survives is love, and so those themes run through both of our art. That's what makes (the collaboration) work."
Moser, whose song "Ghosts in the Kitchen" is about surviving the loss of her boyfriend Paul to a suicide, among other losses, said, "The other place where we have commonality is that it's an incredible gift for me, and I think for Lorraine also, to be able to make art out of loss and then to be able to share that with other people who have the same loss but don't have the art.
"You have the suffering and then you have the art and then that helps other people heal. And that's the whole deal right there."
Paying tribute to Moser's musical gifts, Ash said: "It's a healing sound. They're healing lyrics and healing notes, and I know how they've stroked my soul, and I can only think that it would help anyone who hears it."
Ash, who nearly lost her own life in the aftermath of the stillbirth - from the same infection that took her baby's life - was struck by how well Moser, who has never lost a baby, captured the experience of a mother's loss in the song's lyrics:
"Thirty-three minutes of life, more than enough love to give, she brought the light straight to our hearts with just 33 minutes to live.
And the whole circle turns to each other - our hearts and our love and our hands. Holding each other together, we love, we do not understand."
"My very first thought was, my goodness, someone who has not lost a baby was able to create this perfection that absolutely nails and encapsulates my emotions," Ash said.
"One of the themes in 'Life Touches Life' is that once you get to this land of love and grief that I write about in the book, connections are made, but it takes a while to get there, and there is a time where you feel like you're in a barren desert where relationships are falling away from you and you just don't have a sense of what's coming down the road if you stay the course. And anything that you can find in that space that reaches you is just magical. This song reached me when I was in that in-between space. And then I thought it was something of a miracle really."
Brad Kennedy of Roxbury, author of the novel "HEROES or Something," inspired by his experiences in the Vietnam War, has read Ash's book and heard Moser's songs.
Kennedy, whose work Ash refers to in "Life Touches Life," agrees that the book and songs are tapping into a universal experience of grief, although from different angles, which gives them a double hit.
"They are different media, but they both deal with the common theme of loss, and in particular the loss of a child. And it is in each case very poignant," he said.
"The combination of the two media and the two separate experiences coming together sort of hits you from more than one sensory angle and accomplishes a more total affect," he said, adding, "They're both very powerful and heartfelt reactions to their individual losses, and there's a respect that runs between the two of them because each in their own way has learned the same lessons."
They are the same lessons, Kennedy said, that he learned being a soldier, and the same ones Moser talks about having learned from losing a loved one. Lessons about compassion and patience and survival, which are major themes in Ash's book.
"The bond between the mother and a child is broken, and the mother then is left to grope and pick up the pieces, and people don't know how to react to a mother in those circumstances," Kennedy said.
Kennedy likened it to the experience he and others had as returning Vietnam veterans, where no one wanted to speak with them about the war, or if they did, they only wanted to give their opinions and not really listen to what the soldiers had to say. He finds that same experience in Ash's book.
"One line that sticks in my mind from (the book) is that 'the real break in the natural order of things is not the death of a baby, as terrible as that is, but the failure of other people to give comfort to someone in those circumstances,'" he said.
Kennedy said that makes someone like him able to relate to the story. "There was the loss and there was very little comfort. In the case of my war, anyway, there were no bands or welcome ceremonies when we came back. So it's pretty easy for my heart to go out to someone in Lorraine's circumstances, and certainly I relate to the pain and suffering and the feeling of estrangement that she felt."
The foreword to Ash's book was written by internationally known obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of the best-selling book "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom" (Bantam, revised 1998).
When asked via an e-mail interview why this particular manuscript of the many she receives made her want to help it get out into the world, Northrup said:
"She tells the unvarnished truth without doing the 'spiritual bypass' to avoid doing the work of grieving, and there isn't an ounce of self-pity or 'Why me?' in it. I have been with countless women who have lost their babies. And I knew this book would help them.
"The book also came to me when I was grieving the loss of my 24-year marriage. I found that it helped me through that process. Grief is grief. And the process of grief is the same - no matter what you've lost."
Moser, who currently has five CDs and a sixth in the works and has played such famous folk music venues as Club Passim in Cambridge, Mass., and Godfrey Daniels in Bethlehem, Pa., as well as many places in and around Morris County, found she was touched by much in Ash's story.
"I think one of things that touched me the most was the extent to which she had a relationship with Victoria before she was born. I think that's really magical," Moser said.
"And then I also greatly appreciated the detail - having had some of my own loss - I appreciate the detail of what happened afterward. What people said. What the room looked like. How it felt just doing things like going to the grocery store. How odd it was after this big loss. And then the part that the connection remains. Beyond life and death that connection remains."
Northrup also saw value as a physician in having Ash's book as a reference point.
"Anything that helps a caregiver to be fully present with someone whose heart is broken is a godsend. When we're going through loss, the presence of another human heart that is able to be present with suffering is the greatest gift. And that is what 'Life Touches Life' really is - a gift of presence. You can feel the essence of Bill and Lorraine in it - all orchestrated by Victoria's angelic hand."
Moser and Ash both have great hope about what their works can do to help heal grief.
"Art is like a concrete manifestation of a spiritual mystery, and one of the things you need after a loss like that is some kind of sense that there's some bigger meaning because it's really hard to get up in the morning," Moser said. "And there's something about good writing or a good song or a good painting that makes life look like it makes sense at a time when it doesn't necessarily seem like it does. Like a signpost saying 'Keep going, there is a point.'"
So what do Moser and Ash hope people will take away with from the book and the songs?
"I hope that people hear what Lorraine heard. That is, I hope they hear their own story in there because that's the gift of the songwriter," Moser said.
"I hope," Ash said, "people realize that they don't have to get frozen in that moment of grief, and that there are ways to walk through it - not around it - but through it. And that what they'll find on that walk is miraculous. They'll find love. They'll find peace. They'll find insight. If only they have the courage to keep walking through and not stop. So I hope that both the book and the songs will give people courage to keep going."
If you go
- May 8, 2004, 1-5 p.m.
327 Mount Hope Ave., Rockaway Township
Reading and signing.
With singer/songwriter Kathy Moser.
- May 23, 2004, 4:30 p.m.
Joint Free Public Library of Morristown and Morris Township
1 Miller Road, Morristown
Reading followed by reception. With Kathy Moser.
- June 3, 2004, 7:30 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
1940 Route 10 West, Parsippany
Reading and signing.
- June 19, 2004, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Fourteenth Annual Women's Festival - Women Helping Women Across the Generations
Morristown Unitarian Fellowship
21 Normandy Heights Road, Morris Township
(973) 540-1177, ext. 256
Ash teaching a workshop, "10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Writing A Memoir."
To learn more
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