Taylor Swift released her 10th studio album last week. I’m still working my way through the lyrics. While it has a very different feel than my favorite (folklore), I like the album. There are some songs that are a real sucker punch to the gut. In the years since Swift released 1989, I have only grown to enjoy her songwriting more. While it’s true that folklore meant more to me than I can explain, and heavily impacted the direction my novel took (so melancholy), there are some powerful moments on Midnights, that surpass the emotion of that album.
One of those is the song “Bigger Than the Whole Sky.” While I’m sure it may be disputed, many fans believe it is a song about miscarriage. I happen to agree. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss month and as I’ve seen a variety of posts about women’s stories, I’ve thought about my own loss.
I’ve shared about the grief of losing my son through circumstances I will never be able to share, at around the time our adoption should’ve been final. But I also lost a baby. I don’t talk about it much – if ever. If I’d given birth to her, she would’ve been 15 years old this past spring.
In Swift’s song she writes things like . . .
“Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye / You were bigger than the whole sky /You were more than just a short time / And I’ve got a lot to pine about / I’ve got a lot to live without / I’m never gonna meet / What could’ve been, would’ve been / What should’ve been you / What could’ve been, would’ve been you.”
“Did some bird flap its wings ovеr in Asia? / Did some force take you bеcause I didn’t pray?”
She also sings, “Cause it’s all over, it’s not meant to be.” The emotion that elicits, feels a little different today – than it might have five years ago or more. Today, the grief that bubbles up is co-mingled with knowing that I won’t have a chance to give birth. Our emotions are a weird, weird thing. And we can sometimes feel like our pain doesn’t measure up to that of others as we try to process the weirdness of our emotions.
I am learning how to grieve the loss of a child. I’m still trying to learn how to grieve what will never be. To make things stranger, the man I would have shared a child with, also passed away. That added a layer that I now know I didn’t properly grieve or deal with. But the body keeps the score. And recent losses are compounded by what I never worked through back then.
That does some things to a person. But my story, like so many others like me, isn’t always seen as a valid grief experience. The average person probably wouldn’t say that to a person’s face. Yet it becomes apparent in a myriad of other ways. Do we need validation from others about our experiences or pain? Certainly not. But I will tell you that a lack of validation does, in my opinion, slow (or stop) the healing process.
I think what songs like “Bigger Than the Whole Sky” do for people, is that they absolutely validate the pain that others don’t see. They validate that our own loss was real and that others understand. This is the power of story. I have believed this and known this for as long as I can remember. It’s what compels me to write. Our stories, whether they’re true, or the ones we may create – have tremendous power to impact, inspire, lead to healing, or encourage. Plus there’s that whole entertainment thing.
As I gear up for another year of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo), I was really struck by this “Pep Talk” by Kwame Mbalia, during this NaNoWriMo prep period. He says, in part, “Dice through the unnecessary. Trim away the fluff. Find the core, the kernel, the spark before the flame, that single instant of raw imagination, the chaos before the Big Bang, the heart just before it pumps. There is, for everyone, a singular moment in time when you recognized a concept within the millions of stimuli processed in your brain, and something formed. A character. An idea.”
I love this in particular, “…that single instant of raw imagination, the chaos before the Big Bang, the heart just before it pumps…” sometimes the heart of the story, which takes shape from images, memories, music, loss or whatever else under the sun, gets lost. It gets lost in word counts, fear, trying to accomplish a goal and turning writing into a task to check off a to-do list, etc. The story, the kind that makes you pen a song that helps others to connect with, and remember the life of a baby that was “more than just a short time,” deserves more than second best.
When that story has the power to help others to feel less alone, validates their pain, or opens the door to the hope of healing, it absolutely deserves my full attention. The story I hear in Bigger Than the Whole Sky, is another reminder of why I love to write. It also connects me to deeper levels of my own losses – which ultimately means that I’m drawing closer to healing. For those of us who grieve, there’s no way out – but through. Connecting to songs or other art/writing, other’s experiences, and allowing ourselves to feel the pain in the process, leads to healing.
Whatever Taylor Swift was writing about in this song – we know one thing to be true, if it causes us to face our own losses and pain, and helps us to feel less alone, that’s all that matters. As a writer, that’s the dream – that someday, the words I write will mean as much to others, as my favorite writer’s words mean to me.