My daughter, Emma, is currently compiling a portfolio of her art work. One of the areas she’s thinking about including focuses on work inspired by music, and you know of course that she did the amazing art for my 2016 piano collection, ‘Three Days in November’, but I also wanted to share with you the beautiful piece that she did in response to my song ‘Matthew’. I haven’t listened to this song in a long while, so it was a strange thing to be reminded of this piece of art on Em’s DeviantArt page over Christmas just a few days after passing him in the street – or at least, passing a young man who looked very much like the child from my song, now grown-up.
I remember a large number of children from my teaching days for a whole host of reasons – I could name them all, but not here! – however, one child whose experience stayed with me longer than most was a boy whose father passed away while he was in my class. If my memory is correct, he was 6 at the time, and this huge event in his life resonated with me strongly because I lost my own dad when I was 4. I’ve often thought about this small boy and his family, wondering how they are and how life has treated them since that time, knowing myself that life does goes on, but also understanding how experiencing bereavement at such a young age can impact your perspective of life and death not only while you’re a child, but as you grow up and throughout your life. Em’s response to the song was entirely her own; she didn’t know the story behind it until I told her when she showed me her work. It’s a beautiful piece which I think reveals a similarity in our understanding of the world, strongly evoking a sense of ‘heaven and earth’.
While the song was written ‘to’ Matthew, it was also a nod to a wonderful school nurse who helped me to support a bereaved child. As a very young teacher, I’d had no experience of dealing with child bereavement – sadly, this was not the only time I would have to do it – and so we talked and she gave me various resources to use as needed. One of them, in particular, seemed to help Matthew to make some sense of what had happened: it was the story of water bugs in a pool who couldn’t understand what was happening to their friends as they floated up to the surface, disappearing out of sight. One day, one of the water bugs felt himself being pulled upwards, and soon found himself looking down at his friends in the pool below. Realising that he’d become a dragonfly, he wanted to go back to tell his friends not to be afraid, but he couldn’t find his way back past the surface of the water. Whatever your beliefs, the heaven and earth analogy seems to help a child bereaved, and I kept the story to hand in case it was needed in the future. As it happened, I read it some time later to my own children when they lost their grandmother, and I would recommend it to anyone who may need it. There are free versions around the web, such as this pdf, but you can also buy it in book form: Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children, by Doris Stickney (The Pilgrim Press).
Knowing the story behind the song, I hope you’ll find it to be more about love than loss. It’s a message of hope and life.
Matthew must be in his late 20s by now, grown up and hopefully living a happy life. Strange to think that I was once his teacher, but the woman passing the young man in the street noted that the passing of time equalises us all in the end.
Belated new year’s wishes to you all, and I hope that 2018 treats you well x