The death of a child has prompted a California mother to turn to music, which she is sharing through a new album.
The new CD, called Getting Through It: Music and Words to Help You Through Your Grief, is the product of journey by Joan Abrahamson. The Los Angeles resident heads an organization called the Jefferson Institute, which searches for solutions to public policy problems.
A lawyer with a doctorate in education from Harvard, she has an impressive resume, which includes a stint as a White House fellow in the Carter administration, and a job as assistant chief of staff to Vice President George Bush in the Reagan administration.
But none of that prepared her for a personal tragedy in 1995. "I have two sons now. I had three," she says. "And the youngest one, all of a sudden, stopped breathing and died and we had no clue why. It was very sudden. He had never been sick."
The death of her son James seemed inexplicable. It was caused by a virus that had weakened his heart but caused no visible symptoms. "And at that time, I had that strange position of being in this very painful grieving place, but also having other children, who were five and seven at the time," she says. "And I didn't want them to grow up without joy in their lives or for me to be depressed. It just wasn't an option."
The grieving mother found solace in music. An amateur guitarist, she has written hundreds of songs, and with the help of a friend who is in the music business, Richard Feldman, she produced an album.
"Yeah, you're walking through the fire,
Trying to find your own way,
Walking through the fire,
A little further each day"
Blues musician Taj Mahal performs one song on the CD, Walking Through the Fire. He says the music came to have special meaning in his own life. He recorded the song last December, just months before tragedy struck his family. "In May, I lost my daughter to a terrible automobile accident, and then about seven days later, my sister passed from a heart attack. And then toward the end of the year in October, everybody was kind of hanging to see where the shoe was going to drop for the third time, my sister-in-law passed," he says. "So it was only down the road when I actually heard my own music come back to me, when I was putting it out for other people who might be grieving."
Taj Mahal and other musicians came to the project through co-producer Richard Feldman, a well connected veteran of the music industry.
In selecting the music for the album, Joan Abrahamson turned to some of the songs that spoke to her personally, including some gospel music.
The album includes two renditions of the classic gospel song Amazing Grace, one by Ester Austin and another by the actor Harry Dean Stanton.
Ms. Abrahamson says one song has special meaning for her. Called Some Flowers, it stemmed from words of comfort from a close family friend, the late medical researcher Jonas Salk. Doctor Salk was a world-renowned physician who discovered the polio vaccine, but like everyone else in the family's circle, he was caught off-guard and shocked by the toddler's death.
"And we talked (asking) what happened, and what does it mean, and what do you do? And Jonas told me, some flowers last a little longer, that we're all here for a short time and some of us last longer, but we all are going to die someday and it's a very universal, very natural thing," says Ms. Abrahamson.
I'm counting on nature, I'm counting on her grace,
I'm dependent on the morning to take this pain off of my face. I can only hope that one day I'll be in another place, So far away, far, far away.
'Cause now you're gone and I can't believe it's so,
Now you're gone and I've got to let you go..."
Other songs on the album Getting Through It are performed by the jazz duo Tuck and Patti, country musician Loudon Wainwright the third, and reggae artist Toots Hibbert.