Healing with the Senses: Birds, Butterflies, Balloons, and Coldplay

Healing after loss has many meanings. It is usually  different than how you would have defined it before an injury. It is mostly certainly an unexpected mish mash of sensory experiences after child loss. After your world has turned gray it’s is a long fumbling-in-the-dark painful journey.

The mixed up shades of darkness blur guidelines needed to keep you safe through a path littered with triggers. Sometimes the colors fade slowly and you don’t realize it has happened. Other times, the change happens in one irretrievable moment. However it happens your sensory systems are taking it all in.


The vibrancy in my world  disappeared in a flash of hospital blinking lights and high pitched sounds fifteen years ago. With codes colored like a flag, the more colors were announced through the intercom “Code Blue”, Code Red”, etc the larger the grey cloud blanketed my world. The less healing felt was happening. Sensory overload became personal implode.

One minute I could feel the tender peach fuzz on my newborn son’s soft shoulder. The next he was an alien body both heavy and ice cold.

The lights went out.

The challenge was not to turn them back on but to just fumble around in the darkness. Not really interested in healing – just surviving.

And then Yellow by Coldplay would come on the radio.

Your skin,
Oh yeah your skin and bones,
Turn into
Something beautiful,
Do you know,
You know I love you so,
You know I love you so.

Music takes you back. Under covers in a bed midday, curled up awkwardly on a couch late at night or in a grief-laden daze at a stop sign, music swirls around. It touches your dark spots and reaches within. You remember.

When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse
And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?coldplaystars

I was stuck in reverse and I could not fix my son. I could not fix my family. I could not fix others. I had lost something I could never ever replace.

Losing a child shortly after pregnancy is a physical experience as much as an emotional and spiritual one. It truly takes time to heal all of those complex systems. And they never really heal. They change. They begin to operate differently by creating new connections.

Most people who grieve find mementos or signs that help them feel closer to the loved one who has died. Outside of my son’s hospital window was an eagle soaring. In the classrooms in which I taught were the monarch butterflies headed back to Mexico and the Day of the Dead. There was my favorite color yellow which he had a soft dusting of blonde hair on his eyebrows.

I heard the lyrics. I played them over and over and over as a way to help me reach back. Until I turned them off and walked away from grief. It had continued to chase me but I try to stay away.I turned the music off – literally.

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Despite a true lack of interest and a complete aversion to crowds, I took my husband.to see Coldplay. I had stopped listening to them years ago because this was the music that snuck in under the covers and touched my hope that my son would live. That I could do something that would fix everything that broke in that hospital…and in the wake of his death. I did not want healing. I had needed survival.

So much love and compassion swaddled away in my favorite color and buried away. This time, when I heard the music I still cried. And stood frozen in a sea of screaming fans. People who were all connected to each other and the stars of the show by more than just the cool wristbands that lit up and were synchronized to the music. We all were allowing the music to take us somewhere. Where ever it is our hearts remembered with each strike of the guitar string or the piano key.

For you, I’d wait ’til kingdom come.
Until my day, my day is done.
And say you’ll come, and set me free,
Just say you’ll wait, you’ll wait for me.

De-sensitizing out sadness or keeping our joy in check and measure does not move healing forward. Feel the music. Share your gifts. Heal yourself and help others.

We really are all one. We are all the same. We all need more love.








About the author: Mary Ellen Mannix

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