"Catastrophically strong." On the healing power of music.
Updated: Mar 9
This post is best read while listening to 'June' by Idles.
The days immediately following Luca's birth were spent in a strange, unexpected calm. Daniel and I were surrounded by his friends and family, my mum and dad were still in London, and we supported one other in carrying this new, inexplicable burden that we had never envisaged before. Even my brother had managed to make a last-minute, 48-hour surprise trip to see us in between his work shifts - and, oh dear, was that much, much needed.
I cried every night, before falling asleep. It was, just like the grief, a new and inexplicable type of crying. It felt as though it was coming from a very tangible space within myself that I didn't know existed, and couldn't locate precisely. It made my tears so much heavier, and my sobs so much louder. It made me physically ache and tire. Whilst the nights were long, oppressive, and exhausting, the days were bright, quiet, and full of hope.
On one of those days, I came up with an idea which, to most, would have probably seemed foolish: I told Daniel I wanted to go to a concert. Music, and especially live music, accompanied me throughout my whole life, and was vital during challenging times such as break-ups, eating disorders, and anxiety. Daniel knows this very well, and it's probably for this reason that he agreed: we would go see Idles, one of our favourite bands, who were playing in London on a Saturday, not far from where we live.
Since listening to their album 'Brutalism' for the first time in the early summer of 2017, I felt a cathartic sense of belonging: to their music, their lyricism, their politics and their struggles. The very first time we went to see them, in June 2017, I was pregnant. The second time, four months later, I was a lacklustre version of myself, trying to make sense of everything after my miscarriage. We had tickets to go and see them in April but I was nearly three months pregnant with Luca, I'd just had a biopsy and was advised to stay home to recover.
I convinced myself that Idles were somehow signposting both my pregnancy journeys, and their music became a comforting, healing refuge in my most confusing days. Five months into my pregnancy with Luca, I came across an interview with singer Joe Talbot published in The Guardian, and the connection I had always sensed became more tangible: in June 2017, just as I was about to find out about my first pregnancy, Joe and his partner were about to lose their daughter, Agatha, during labour.
When Luca's lethal condition became apparent and we took the excruciating decision to terminate the pregnancy, I sent Idles a private message on Instagram to tell them my story. I genuinely don't know what I was expecting - what I wasn't expecting, though, was for Joe to write back, and for the two of us to send each other messages of hope and strength. Our experiences were very different and so were our griefs, but I felt that they had one fundamental aspect in common: we had both lost the promise of a new life, the excitement of a unique creature that was ours, the fantasy of what that unique creature would grow up to be. We had both lost a child.
The morning of the awful injection that stopped Luca's heart forever, Joe sent me a wonderful message, saying they were keeping us in their thoughts and wishing us to be strong. He added, "Just remember that you are never alone". The day before the concert, I sent him a message to thank him for his kind words and to let him know that Daniel and I would be going to see them perform in London the following evening. I was so wrapped up in a thousand thoughts and feelings that I didn't even check his reply, which said something about being thankful for my honesty and vulnerability, and that he hoped we would enjoy the show.
On the day of the concert, I felt myself getting more and more anxious and teary - perhaps it wasn't a great idea to go to a music event so soon after Luca's birth. Perhaps I wasn't ready yet. Was I rushing things? Was I ignoring my pain and pretending that it just didn't exist? I thought about it long and hard: I was looking forward to seeing Idles play again, and told Daniel that we should just go and see how I felt. If my anxiety got worse, we would be able to make our way back home easily.
Grief - especially when it's raw - is a merciless beast, always in ambush and ready to attack you when you are going about the most mundane, simple things. I spent the afternoon and evening leading up to Idles' performance sipping wine in the sun, chatting with Daniel and Richard, and occasionally excusing myself to hide somewhere quiet and have a solitary cry. This type of grief can be very physical - just like you might be desperate for a pee, you are desperate for a cry. It can hit you at any time like a giant wave - sometimes you can ride it, other times it swallows you whole.
I started feeling better once the band appeared on stage. Suddenly, I had something exciting and familiar and comforting to focus on: music. I let myself go, dancing and singing along, hugged and lulled by Daniel and, in a sense, by the amazing crowd around me. Idles were exactly as I remembered them: exhilarating, unapologetic, hilarious. Just as the concert was coming to a close, Joe announced: "This next song is for my new friend, Sara. She is going through a tough time, and we wish her to be strong." Idles threw themselves in a powerful, sweaty rendition of 'Well done', and I felt my head spinning.
Was this happening for real? Daniel, Richard and myself looked at each other with a mix of stupor, excitement, and genuine disbelief. I burst into tears - not heavy, stinging tears of grief, but bright and sweet tears of joy - while Daniel and Richard hugged me, and the people around stared at us, puzzled. Joe and his band gave my grief a voice. They helped me to acknowledge and validate my different but valuable motherhood and the new, complicated and unfamiliar chapter of my life that I had just started exploring. Most importantly, they made me feel that I wasn't, and would never be, alone in this long journey.
After the concert, I timidly made my way to the backstage not knowing exactly what I would say or do, but Joe appeared from behind a curtain and I simply introduced myself and gave him a big hug. Daniel, Richard and myself spent some time sitting in the backstage with Joe, sharing stories, feelings, and thoughts. An invisible but mighty thread of grief and loss and love for our children was now connecting our lives, and we were trying our best to cling on to it so that we wouldn't lose each other in the flood that is life after baby loss. Nothing about those moments felt forced or fake, and I surely didn't feel like some sort of fan, excited to speak to one of her favourite artists. We were just a bunch of people who happened to love music and had been through the most horrendous, life-changing event that anyone could possibly fathom.
We were all, as Joe said in the end, "catastrophically strong".