Personal Stories

For When You Want a Lullaby: An Essay on Loss

“You want a lullaby, but you cannot sing…”

The texts came at 6:10 am on a Thursday in late spring, before the sun had finished rising. Half asleep, I read: “Kathryn, call us back. Please, it’s very important.” There were several missed calls accompanying the text, voicemails confirming that my family urgently needed to talk to me. Such vague, imperative messages were atypical of my family. I dialed back, already paralyzed with dread and unease. 

“Though you try, you don’t feel a thing.”

The line picked up, my mom speaking softly. “Kathryn, Preston died last night. The cops came to our door a few hours ago. He shot himself in the head. There was a letter. When can you come home?” In those moments, the world stopped and everything I’d ever known to be true was a lie. I often still wish I had not woken up that morning.   

“Troubled, unable to soothe your tired eyes and your weary mood…”

Preston Douglas Wood was sibling number six in a family of ten children. A middle child, he was easy going and sweet. He didn’t seek attention, but didn’t mind being recruited for teatime by his little sisters or trouble making by his older brothers. In fact, he kept his opinions and feelings to himself. When frustrated, hurt, or sad, he wouldn’t say so. Instead, he’d clench his teeth and fists while tears welled in his eyes. He’d simply walk away—sometimes to his room, sometimes outside – but always alone.     

“…I never knew this fragile side of you.”

As Preston grew older, the tendency to keep negative emotions hidden only increased. In our rural Central Pennsylvania hometown, the “strong and silent” male typecast was favored. Men don’t cry. Preston knew this and followed suit. Like many teens, Preston struggled with purpose and self-worth. Rather than face these emotional challenges head on, Preston turned to another solution: alcohol. By the time he was a junior in high school, drinking was his primary—if not only—coping mechanism. And with each year, it worsened. All unbeknownst to our family. 

“I love you, do you know?”

As Preston’s oldest sister, I’ve spent countless hours thinking about him. I obsess over what I could have done differently, what I could have said, why I didn’t recognize the gravity of his depression. After all, I am the oldest—I’m supposed to fix things. Sometimes I’m ashamed; I’m ashamed that despite several years helping others with mental health issues as a clinical music therapist, I couldn’t help Preston. No amount of education or experience can ever change that.   

“When you’re breaking, slipping low…”

In the months since Preston’s passing, I’ve reached a level of depression I could never have fathomed. Many know me to be optimistic and resilient, with a thirst for life; depression seemed so far from me. But as days turn into weeks turn into months, grief has given way to doubt, purposelessness, overwhelming sadness and anxiety. If what I feel is even a tenth of what Preston was feeling, I understand why he wanted to end his years of mental anguish and emotional pain. I only wish he would have asked for help, answered, “How are you?” honestly, or let his tears show just once, instead of choosing suicide.

“…filled with doubt, lost and angry…”

Three years ago, I started writing a song with chords and melody that came almost instantly to me. But no matter how much I wrote and re-wrote, I could not find the appropriate lyrics to complete it. It was the first time I was unable to finish a musical project in a lifetime of songwriting. So, I left it sitting in the corner of my mind, gathering cobwebs, reminding me of its incompleteness. On March 26th, 2015, this fragmented song not only finished itself, but also became a respite I never dreamed I would need. 

“…I hope you find the peace that you need.”

There is still so much I wish I could say to Preston, and yet, everything I would say has become everything I need to hear from someone else. Music has been my one true reprieve in life, and though its sound has deafened since Preston passed, it is the only way I can begin to string together all the thoughts, feelings, and questions involved in grieving him. So after three years of sitting on that half-finished song, in the days following Preston’s death “Lullaby” practically wrote itself. It is my letter to Preston, to my family, to myself and to anyone else hurting, lost, hopeless and defeated. For the times when you want a lullaby, but you cannot sing.

 


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