Written by: "Jen"

Carrying A Tune


Yesterday I shared how Zach Sobiech’s song Clouds landed on my ultimate playlist upon first hearing it last year. Writing my own playlist and documenting the significance behind each song was a very emotional journey for me. Being able to give my friends and family small snapshots of more personal events in my life and insight into the words that inspire me is a gift. There are few things in life that we all have in common, but each day we look at the same sun and moon, and each day we get one day closer to our eternity. Each day is an opportunity to share with those we love and learn about others.

My good friend and soul sister, Debbi McCarthy, just accompanied me on a whirlwind road trip last week, the result of which we will share with you tomorrow. We had a lot of time to talk about the gift that Zach Sobiech gave to us in Clouds. With 24 hours of drive time, we got to discuss (and listen to) music at length. Debbi jenerously offered to share the musical life of her daughter, Melanie Rose, who passed away from complications of Juvenile Diabetes at the young age of 38. It is so beautiful that Debbi continues to uncover new stories about Melanie’s life as her friends share their memories. The Fly A Little Higher Blog Tour has created this opportunity for Debbi to rediscover the inner beauty of her daughter all over again. Please enjoy this mother’s tribute to Melanie’s life of music and friendship.

She enjoyed music on her noise-cancelling headphones, a gift from her brother.

She enjoyed music on her noise-cancelling headphones, a gift from her brother.

Musical Memories of Melanie Rose Weaver [1971 – 2010]

At the beginning of the soundtrack of our children’s lives – that miraculous indignant cry that lets us know they have arrived – no mother expects to have to choose the music for her child’s memorial service. But, the ensuing cacophony that accompanies us each step along the way underscores our ups and downs and provides an evocative context for our tapestry of memories.

Like mothers of many species, our child’s voice is like a beacon. We can pick out our kid’s call for help in a crowded park or their enthusiastic rendition of a holiday classic hitting a wrong note in a school concert. We can decipher their words even wrapped in breathless sobs or gales of giggles. From my daughter Melanie’s first solo rendition of the ABCs to the final strains of a church full of people singing Abba’s “I Believe In Angels,” the closest thing to sacred music we dared to play at her memorial service, the music of my daughter’s life echoes like a lilting aria that drifts among those of us who loved her best, holding us close.

While my daughter herself was not a musician, she was introduced to music early and shared her love of it with family and friends, introducing us to obscure artists and blaring her favorite songs over and over again until she could sing along with every word.

My mother, Mary McCarthy, whose lovely voice was a gift in our home, delighted in teaching old songs to her children and grandchildren. Along with my grandmother and our parish priest, my sisters and I spent several years as The McCarthy Sisters, travelling around Connecticut to church fairs and nursing homes with our act that combined Irish, Broadway, Shirley Temple and nostalgic hits. Melanie especially loved one of Mom’s favorites “Side by Side,” a popular 1920’s standard most often sung by our family loudly in the car.

My oldest dearest friend, Melanie’s godmother, Tina West Pateracki, introduced us all to the exploits of “Little Bunny Foo Foo,” which would leave Melanie collapsing from laughter every time one of us would sing it for her (preferably, a hundred times). Mel later helped teach that and other children’s songs to her brother and sister, Steven, and Tisa – and, later, to her son Ryan.

One of her close girlhood friends, Tania Trepanier – who was tragically killed in a 2003 accident – spent hours at our home in Zomba, Malawi, perched precariously on a chair opposite my daughter, go-go dancing to Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” “Waterloo,” and “Mamma Mia.”

From me, she learned to love The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and other sixties and seventies artists – although she did confess later that she never really warmed up to Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, and, I will admit that there were years when I was not a huge fan of the music coming from her room or car.

As a teen and young adult, she made wonderful memories with her friends, who have shared many with me in the years since we lost her. I am so grateful to these people who loved Melanie so dearly and cherish their times together – so often, punctuated by vivid memories of the music they shared:

During Junior High, Trisha McMillan Ferguson lived within walking distance of Melanie’s dad’s house. When the girls would walk the back way to meet each other, they crossed a big open field. Mimicking the opening of “The Sound of Music,” they would run toward each other, arms outstretched singing the song all dramatic and silly.

Melanie’s closest friend school friend, Shannon Conway Johansen, remembers singing Bon Jovi’s “I’d Die For You” at the top of their lungs when it first came out. And, the two of them loved dancing to Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” convinced in their profound youthful angst, that all love was tainted in the end.

At the old Storman’s Palace in Clearwater, FL Melanie and her buddies danced many a night away – her friend Kristy Knight, a popular radio personality who did a weekly appearance at Storman’s, particularly remembers one of their faves was “Lean On Me” from Club Nouveau – it never failed to move them onto the dance floor.

Cindy Quo was an angel neighbor/friend who brightened many of Melanie’s toughest homebound days when her health was so fragile that some of the local EMTs, who came to resuscitate her all too often, actually learned the names of her fish. Cindy remembers that “Hanging By A Moment” by Lifehouse was a kind of lifeline for Melanie during that time.

As Melanie’s illness progressed, she took as her own an Alanis Morisette song, “That I Would Be Good,” that contained the lyrics, “… that I would be good, if I got and stayed sick.” I know that those unflinchingly brave lyrics helped my daughter come to grips with the inevitability of her illness. She also drew an amazing strength from Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter,” with a less obvious, but equally powerful theme of the pain of no-win situations.

My best friend’s daughter, Caroline Schuler, was an especially close friend, spending long summer and holiday vacations with us. Singing along to James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend” is one of Caroline’s favorite memories of the many road trips between Tampa and Charleston, SC – screeching out the high notes singing “…and I’ll beeeee there yeah, yeah, yeah – you’ve got a friend.”

Melanie’s sister, Tisa, remembers the two of them loving The Pretenders “I’ll Stand By You.” By the time Tisa got married, Melanie was struggling to keep healthy with her transplanted kidney and pancreas and the immune deficiency that challenges transplant patients. Tisa had the song played at the wedding.

In later years Tisa, Caroline, Steven, Ryan and I all remember listening to Jeff Buckley’s timeless version of “Hallelujah” with Melanie. It became her anthem.

In the days following her death in April of 2010, Tisa, Steven, Caroline and their spouses went into seclusion at Tisa’s house and produced an amazing slide show synched to Melanie’s favorite music. That labor of love carried them through those first days of unthinkable loss and gave us all a gift at her memorial service.

After losing my dad, I spent weeks listening to Tom Petty’s “Room at the Top.” When my mother died, Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will,” was what I played over and over. When I lost Melanie, my song became “The Circle of Life” from the Lion King Broadway soundtrack. The CD is still in my car CD player.

Every April 13th, on what we call MelMorial Day, a group of family and friends makes the trek to Bok Tower Gardens, a beautiful, historic bell tower in rural central Florida surrounded by lush gardens in a beautiful natural setting. It was her favorite place on earth. We walk, reminisce and take a break from everything else in our lives, stopping each time the carillon plays to let the beauty of the bell concerts wash over us and soothe our aching hearts, something that only music can do.

Yesterday I shared how Zach Sobiech's song Clouds landed on my ultimate playlist upon first hearing it last year. Writin...

Read More »

Fly A Little Higher…The Blog Tour

zach sobiech

Last year, on May 20th, I wrote about Zach Sobiech who lost his battle with osteosarcoma at age 18. Zach didn’t go quietly. He left the world with a musical gift called Clouds which hit #1 on the charts the week he died. Laura Sobiech, Zach’s mother, just released her memoir of Zach’s journey yesterday. The book, Fly A Little Higher, is written from her perspective as she deals with her own emotions and prepares for her son’s death. Grab your copy HERE

Laura asked that I be part of her Blog Tour, which is celebrating the release of Fly A Little Higher this week. I am honored to be a part of such a wonderful launch, and am grateful that, in some small way, I can participate in being part of Zach’s legacy.

As I read the book, I found myself relating to Laura, imagining that I would have similar struggles and questions if I had to walk the same path with my son. Laura turned to God and asked that out of this tragedy, Zach’s death could mean something…something big. She encouraged Zach to write letters to his family, but that wasn’t his style. Rather, he wrote songs to communicate his feelings and encourage his loved ones to stay positive and make each day meaningful. I believe that her encouragement was an integral part of his musical legacy. As parents, we influence our children because we believe their potential as limitless.

When I first heard Clouds, I connected to it instantly, playing it over and over again. I loved the lighthearted pings from the glockenspiel, the sense of rising and falling with the lyrics, the clear message about faith in God and the refreshing innocence in Zach’s voice. It made me question my own legacy and how I could follow in Zach’s footsteps by creating something big. It made me reflect upon what is important to me.

I can’t play an instrument (except the air guitar and kazoo) or carry a tune (as proven in many late night karaoke attempts); however, attending concerts, remembering lyrics, introducing others to the meaning of songs and supporting the arts has always been part of my passion. Zach shared something very personal with the world and has encouraged me to “fly a little higher” and share my very personal ‘Ultimate Mix Tape’ playlist. Each song is a favorite because it reminds me of a moment or inspires me with its meaning. Clouds is one of the few songs on my playlist that contains both elements. ‘Ultimate Mix Tape’ Playlist

I hope that you get to know me a little better through these songs and their stories. If you discover a new favorite of your own as a result of exploring this list, then my heart will smile. I encourage each of you to create your own playlist. What a wonderful gift to give your friends and family. Please, take your time compiling your list; mine took DAYS. Revisiting various times in my life and listening to many old favorites brought back so many raw emotions. I laughed, cried and even blushed. Thank you, Zach, for leading by example and encouraging me to “Fly A Little Higher” as well.

Last year, on May 20th, I wrote about Zach Sobiech who lost his battle with osteosarcoma at age 18. Zach didn't go quiet...

Read More »

Beware the Banana Boat…

banana boat ride

My son and I are back from our mother/son Spring Break cruise to St. Thomas and St. Maarten. The weather was beautiful and the Northerners were wearing their blistered sunburns like badges of honor. I hope you don’t mind if I share a little about one of our excursions.

On Princess Cay, Princess Cruise Line’s private island, I thought it would be fun to go on a Banana Boat ride. One would think this would be an enjoyable ride on a bouncy blow up raft…fun for the whole family. Actually, it was a 15-minute express ride to hell and back. I am almost certain that the two locals driving the speedboat were named Hades and Lucifer. The banana boat seats 12 people (6 people sitting directly behind each other on each side). We had two other adult couples along for our ride, so of course the adults decided that the 11-yr old thrill seeker (aka ‘My Son’) should sit in the front and I, as legal chaperone, had to be seated adjacent to him on the other front seat. The seas were rather rough that day as the paddleboarders couldn’t stand at all due to the chop. Hades and Lucifer took off once we made it to open water, maxing out the allowable speed of 25 mph. My death grip on the rubber handle was not going to be enough to keep me on the boat so I adjusted my grip, putting my left arm in a bicep curl position.

The drivers thought it was funny to stop the boat suddenly, sending us flying forward, just to take off again to whip our momentum into reverse. Before we left for the trip, I got shellac put on my fingernails so I wouldn’t have to mess with them on the trip. This was one of my smartest decisions as I still don’t know how my nails stayed on my fingers. I could feel the beds separating as I held on for dear life. I wore a blue wrap around my waist and from shore, I must have looked like Superman flying through the air as my legs were airborne 1-2 feet above my seat 80% of the ride with my “cape” flowing behind me. My bikini bottom did not want to stay on, so the riders behind me got quite a show (insert blushing here) and weren’t afraid to tell me all about it when we got back to shore. Since my left arm was in a bicep curl position for 15-minutes straight, my muscles convulsed rapidly for the remainder of the day, affording me the new nickname “Twitch.” I had bruises on my knuckles and inner thigh, along with a cut on my right ankle…BUT I DID NOT FALL OFF (insert evil grin)!!!

As you can imagine, the banana boat excursion was the highlight of my son’s vacation. When other cruisers heard the story, they told me that I can check it off my bucket list. Really??? Did they think it was right up there with ‘Live in Sorrento, Italy?’

Keep posted for more stories from our Spring Break adventure!

My son and I are back from our mother/son Spring Break cruise to St. Thomas and St. Maarten. The weather was beautiful a...

Read More »

What Would You Do?

Gerdi McKenna is amazed by such a beautiful gesture of love.

Please watch this amazing video before you read my post, or else you won’t understand a word I am about to say. It is about true friendship and women who are stripping down, so hopefully one of those topics appeals to you and convinces you that this is worth just 4 minutes of your time…

Anything for love … from Albert Bredenhann on Vimeo.

So, it wasn’t really about women “stripping down” but they did shed a bit…and hopefully it got more people to experience this amazing display of true friendship and love. I now grant you permission to continue :-)

Watching this story unfold raised so many questions in my mind. Would I actually do that if faced with the same invitation? I don’t know that I could answer that honestly until I sat in the salon chair. Would I let the opinions of others influence my decision? If I was in Gerdi’s situation, how many of my friends would be there in all of their bald glory? Would I be surprised by some of the faces that I saw and some that were missing? Could we celebrate each other with as much joy if we didn’t have a hardship come along to create the opportunity?

This video points out the obvious…without our health we really have nothing, good friends can help you get through any situation, and…a little champagne can make any party more fun (duh…)! But it also points out two other facts. First, that bald IS beautiful. I couldn’t help but notice how each woman looked more beautiful after she made the sacrifice of her hair. They each gave up their pride with JOY and it shone so brightly through their eyes and their smiles. It gave them a rawness that allowed us to more clearly see their inner spirits. And, second, that anyone can give. The things that matter most don’t cost money. It is the gestures, the smiles, the listening, the hugs, the daily kindnesses that mean the most. If we could each choose to give a little more of ourselves, in a personal way, the world would be a better place…with a few more happy bald people.

Please watch this amazing video before you read my post, or else you won't understand a word I am about to say. It is ab...

Read More »

In Sickness and In Health

in sickness and in health

When we get married, we promise to love each other in sickness and in health. But when we say those words, we often don’t know what may come our way.

Meet our monthly contest winner, Lisa Likes. Lisa writes, “I had 12 inches of my colon removed and then it got infected and I had to have another surgery on Valentines Day. My hubby now has to unpack and pack my open wound everyday, twice a day, and never complains and cries when I do! We missed Valentines Day and our anniversary is on the 27th, which I am sure we will miss also! I love and appreciate all he does.”

I love that Lisa pointed out that her husband lovingly helps her without complaining. It is one thing to do what we have promised to do, but it is another to do those tough things with a positive attitude. I will be sending “Hubby” something special as well. He deserves it!

Feel better Lisa and thanks for reminding us that if we make the choice to do the tough things without complaining, we show our love even more!

When we get married, we promise to love each other in sickness and in health. But when we say those words, we often don'...

Read More »