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Laura Barton on the power of music, grief and dealing with the death of a child

December 27, 2014

The brilliant writer Laura Barton, often found writing about music in the Guardian and the author of the excellent novel 21 Locks, wrote a heartbreaking piece about the power of music to reveal the deepest of emotions: grief.

The piece was about hearing The National‘s ‘Terrible Love’ while driving in California and pulling off the road to pour out  suppressed grief for a dead child.

I don’t know her story, but I think we can all guess; the lack of background details makes this short, few paragraphs all the more powerful. I’ve not read anything so affecting and personal for a long time.

Barton is a brilliant writer, one with a gift for revealing emotion and depth regardless of what she is writing about. I hope she is OK. The piece follows beneath the fold.

Here is the piece:

Sitting weeping in a car in California

This year was a strange year. The weeks seem blurred and indistinct to me now, though I remember the glimmers of it: Brazil, Bridgwater, Santa Fé; mimosa blossom, Heart of Gold, the sound of choughs on a warm Welsh morning.

I have not often chosen to write about my personal life in my journalistic career; rarely do I imagine readers’ lives enriched by such detail and mundanity. But sometimes it seems impossible to write of anything else, and the loss of a child is a deep and particular grief; a root that spreads beneath all of the days of a year and leaves them unearthed.

For a long time I do not look at it. I cannot speak of it. It sits in the dark place beneath deadlines and social events, gigs, emails, interviews, telephone calls, airports. It lies under all happinesses and the bright days of summer.

But I am driving along the coast of California when my iPod suddenly plays a song that I love and I find myself so buckled by sadness that I have to pull up abruptly on a slim, worn curve of road and cry. Terrible Love is the opening track from the National’s 2010 album High Violet – though it is an acoustic version that plays today, and in its looser and more ragged feel I find a kind of kinship. This is a song that has seen me through many sad times, hard times, hollow times. It is a bulwark of my record collection, a song about a relationship soured — the curdled air and claustrophobia, the quiet fear and fury. In its final verses it builds to a catharsis, a gathering of guitar, brass, keys, and then sets loose its final line: “It takes an ocean not to break.”

I sit in the front seat, with the windows down, and listen to it over and over. It is autumn, but still warm, and the sea is thrashing below, giddy and oblivious. I feel like a wild thing – crying and singing, crying and singing, until my face is swollen, and my throat is raw. “It takes an ocean not to break,” the stereo roars. “It takes an ocean not to break.”

And from that quiet curve of Pacific road I feel I am flinging all of the year’s hope and love towards the water, heaving my grief from its dark depths, until there is nothing, nothing nothing; nothing but music and air.

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