A Single Note in a Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

“Listen to this,” one of my favorite professors told all of us during a lecture on Eastern Europe and the suffering that area of the world endured, particularly throughout the twentieth century.  “Just listen.”  He turned off the lights, leaving only the words from the powerpoint lit up on the screen.  They read simply: “No Mother, do not weep, most chaste Queen of Heaven support me always”.

The music flowed over and around in the darkness.  First, a soft, almost mournful, slightly dissonant theme issued forth.  Then the low moan of a vocal that slid over the minimal accompaniment, almost like a chant.  Slowly, the vocal rose into a soaring soprano over the atonal chords beneath, startling in its intensity and terrible sadness.  Before I knew it, tears were slipping down my cheeks.  I couldn’t explain what exactly about the music touched me so deeply, but there was no doubt about its power.

As the movement came to an end, the professor quietly dismissed us.

The music my professor played was the second movement of Polish composer Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, called “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”.  The text of the movement comes from an inscription on the wall of a Gestapo prison cell written by a Polish teenage girl, of whom Gorecki notes: “… she is seeking comfort and support in simple, short but meaningful words”.  Gorecki has stated that the work is meant as a meditation on the bonds between mothers and children, of sadness, of loss, not necessarily specific to just the losses of World War II or a single person or region.  It’s meant simply for grief.

That music has followed me since that day.  I have played it for losses both large and small losses known only to my heart.  It became far more poignant with its evocation of motherhood and loss when infertility entered the picture.  Even though I’ve never lost a child, the loss of hopes, of dreams, of chances of motherhood still resonate deeply.  The music, in ways nothing else can, allows me to feel, to mourn, instead of shoving it all deep down, denying the pain exists.  I hate feeling those emotions of loss, I hate crying, because it means allowing myself to be in pain and pain is nothing if not uncomfortable.

And today is a loss.

Objectively, on the way to the RE’s office, I try to rationalize.  It’s just one cycle.  We only had a 20% chance of succeeding in conceiving.  Lots of people have gone through so much more.  Real losses.  This isn’t a tragedy, it’s just my period, the remnants of not conceiving this time.  The RE’s office doesn’t treat it as such when I call, briskly making sure I’m scheduled without so much as an acknowledgement of the thickness in my voice, no “I’m sorry to hear that”.  So it’s not a big deal, I think, and I should just move on.

In some ways, of course, it’s not a tragedy.  The miracle conception didn’t happen for us this month.  And other people have been through so much more.  All I have to do is turn on the news or read a history book to hear of the most awful moments.  My small, unimportant sadness doesn’t even hold a candle to these.

But, there was so much hope.  There were moments of dreaming, of wondering if those symptoms might might be finally what we had longed for so badly.  Neither Arthur nor I comment on it this morning when I shove the decaf tea and coffee I bought in a rush of excitement into the back of the cabinet and pull out the fully leaded stuff to pour into the French press.

When I arrive at the RE’s office, I go in for my baseline ultrasound.  The right ovary looks fine, or as fine as it ever looks since it’s obviously polycystic.  The tech has to look carefully for my left ovary, which is hard to find due to two large cysts that cause it to blend in for a moment.  Oh no, I think when I see the image pop onto the screen, because it can’t mean anything except bad news.

The nurse calmly explains afterward that my options are to rest and call them when my next period starts or to do a three-week course of birth control that might help with shrinking the cyst.  I struggle not to cry.  The nurse says nothing, just waits for my response.  I want her to say something human here, say how sorry she is that this has happened to me, but she just stares at me expectantly.  I force myself not to cry.

I stumble out with a prescription for the birth control, through the lobby.  There is a couple sitting in the lobby with the tiniest, brand-new baby.  It can’t be anything but coincidence, but it’s causing me to feel even more upset.

Finally at home and alone, I sit down.  I want to cry.  The heaviness in my chest is palpable.  But the tears won’t come.  So I pull up iTunes and slowly, Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs floods the room.

The music washes over me, my grief joining that of so many others.  Many griefs, all different, some small, some enormous, some mine, some belonging to others all twine together in the chords.  Mine is simply a single note in this greater symphony, but it is there.  It is painful to feel these things, whispers the music, but it is no shame.

And finally, the tears are allowed to fall.


12 thoughts on “A Single Note in a Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

  1. I have recently gone through a miscarriage of a very loved and expected baby. I youtubed the music you were referring to, and it resonated within me in relation to the loss I’ve endured.

    I hope we both can enjoy the future and it brings us ever towards the thing we both desire. Life gives us trouble to deal with, so we can grow stronger in our lives and bring happiness to those around us. It’s difficult, but we can bear it.

    We will survive, and be stronger for what we have endured. I’m sure of it.

  2. There is a tendency in our society to compare grief and loss. We tell ourselves that losing hope is not as bad as losing a life. The truth is they cannot be compared. Loss is loss. I’m sorry for what you are going through today. I am glad that you are doing something to actively process this loss. My thoughts are with you as you continue on your journey.

  3. I have chills reading this. Just because someone is starving doesn’t make someone else’s hunger go away. Nor does the existence of “worse” losses erase your loss. This is a loss, and your heart is telling you that you need to mourn it. I’m glad you have a song to help you through.

  4. i don’t think your loss is any greater or any less than any other loss. Loss is loss. end of story. It is still hard and it’s shit and it’s unfair. And that nurse should have shown some kind of compassion, what kind of hollow person behaves like that.Every time a cycle doesn’t work, it is devestating, and every time you have to think about new treatment options, it is devestating. but you are getting through, lady, you are showing your strength through your grief and that is more than can be expected of anyone. you are awesome, lady.

  5. Katherine, it was all I could do not to break out in tears as I sit down at this cafe, reading your post. It gave me immeasurable comfort to know that I am not the only one trying to minimise my “loss” by comparing it to greater losses- and failing miserably. No matter what, our loss is our own and only we can appreciate it and feel it. I learnt that it is ok to feel bad about a failed cycle. After which, through what feels like superhuman effort, to focus on the good things I do have in life. Wishing you all the best in ur TTC journey. -Prithi

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