From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

Healing Music

On May 8, 1994, our sixteen-year-old son, Joshua, died. At first, my wife, Marlis, and I thought he had the flu, but when he didn’t improve after a few days, we took him to our local hospital. The following morning, Josh was taken by medevac helicopter to a larger hospital. . . . but he died anyway. The doctors think he had Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but the tests were not conclusive.

I wasn’t with Josh when he died. He asked for me very late that night—after he was airlifted—but I had a fractured ankle and couldn’t endure standing on it for hours at a time. Instead, my daughter, Sarah, and I had planned to make the trip early the following morning. My wife and her mother were at the hospital with Joshua. That night, while I was on the telephone with my wife, the doctor brought her the news—that our Josh was in a bad way and the process that was killing him couldn’t be stopped.

I demanded to have the phone put up to Joshua’s ear and held there. Then I said my good-byes and told him how much I loved him and how proud I was to be his father. Afterward, my wife and I stayed together by telephone for his last moments—and cried and cried. I wasn’t there for my son, to hold his hand as he went into eternity with our Lord. That haunts me, to this day, every day.

I spoke a few words at the funeral for my son. I just had to. Sarah placed a rose on her brother’s casket, I climbed to the pulpit using my cane. I think the most important thing I said was, “Joshua looked one more time into his mother’s face, closed his eyes in death and smiled. He looked into the face of the person who had brought him into the world. And as he died, he smiled, because he saw Jesus, the face of the One who was taking him into his eternal world, and eternal life.”

Joshua wanted to live in the mountains after college. So, we had his remains cremated and took them to the southwest corner of Colorado. Seven miles up an old mining road, at an elevation of ten thousand feet with a jagged mountain range in the background, we found a hidden meadow. There, we placed a marking stone level into the ground. It reads “Josh Moodie, Beloved Son and Brother, 1977-1994.” We scattered his ashes there.

The following week, my kinfolk who live in the area and found the spot for us, took some other family members to “Joshua’s Meadow.” They discovered that a herd of wild horses had spent the night. Not only did Josh love horses, his middle name, Philip, means “lover of horses.”

Up until Josh’s death, ours had been a very musical family. Josh played the French horn for seven years and was in his high school’s marching band. Sarah is gifted with a wonderful voice and won singing contests in middle school. Both children took private lessons. Our family has an extremely large collection of CDs—gospel and, especially, Christmas music. Music was always in our home, in our car and in our lives.

But when Josh died, music died for my family. The stereo was idle—as was the car radio, tape deck and portable stereo. Christmas songs were nothing but background music for our heartache. Sarah’s voice lessons went by without practice and continued only with parental insistence. Her singing was without life—flat, expressionless, totally lacking in joy.

My sadness knew no bounds. Even breathing caused sharp pain—the grief was just too much for me. Too much! I thought to myself, God must have mad e a mistake here, when he took my Jo sh.

I was afraid I had to end my pain the only way I knew how—with a pistol. I knew I couldn’t live with the pain— not even for my family and friends!

Then something incredible happened! I heard Kathy Mattea sing “Mary, Did You Know?” on a 1994 Christmas show on TV. I had never heard of this country music star, but pieces of that song remained with me for all of 1995. When the Christmas season came again, I found out who Kathy Mattea was and bought her CD, Good News.

The first time I played it for my family, our whole house seemed to change—to brighten. Just as the radiance of spring follows the gloom of a long winter, music came alive in our home once more. We played that CD over and over, and it made us feel wonderful. Our collection of other Christmas CDs once again gave us the joy we had known from them when Josh was alive. We began singing with the music, just like before. What a gift Good News was to us. When I cleaned out Joshua’s room—three years after his death—it took me a week. I would work awhile, then go hide in my room and cry and sob for a while. Then back and forth. But I had Kathy singing to me the entire time. It was as if she was in the room with me, talking and encouraging and loving me through her music.

Last year, I went to a Kathy Mattea concert in Tulsa and as a fan club member, I was allowed to meet her. When I told her my name, she said, “You’re the ‘Walter’ who sent me the letter about your son, aren’t you?” Then she gave me what I believe is the biggest hug I’ve ever had. She felt the pain and suffering and loss that I did, and she loved me up the best she could as a friend! Then, knowing that I was very intimidated by her status in the music world, she stood next to me, held my hand and talked for what seemed like forever while pictures were taken of us together.

During the Christmas service at our church last year, Sarah sang Kathy’s song “Mary, Did You Know” as a solo, accompanied only by her music teacher on the guitar. My wife and I were transported as we listened to the very song that healed me—and our family—and gave us back living in this world, not just hanging on.

Walter Moodie

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