Hearing Silent Night Makes Me Cry

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of her daughter Marika Warden playing christmas carols.Thanksgiving wasn’t even over yet last week when the stores started playing Christmas songs. This music was foreign to me until many years ago when my young daughter became a girl scout and we went caroling. We’d go home and I’d marvel at how she reproduced the tunes on her flute or pennywhistle. Now, hearing Silent Night and other carols makes me cry uncontrollably.

I remember the first time holiday music pummeled me. It was in early December, eight years ago, when I was stuck alone at the Ronald MacDonald House near the hospital where my daughter was waiting for a stem cell transplant. It was before everything went downhill for Marika, before I had any inkling it would be her last Christmas. There were only a couple of people staying at the RMD House that night, and the staff begged us to gather for the visiting musicians. Seated up close in a rocking chair, I listened, sniffling, confused about how the music was affecting me. By the time they began Silent Night, I was trembling and hugging myself, trying to hold in my howls.

This September, I began learning to play a red plastic cornet. It has nothing to do with my daughter, I told people, even though everything I’ve done since Marika died has been about her. This was just for me, I insisted—I wanted to play bugle calls. Taps in particular. Whenever I hear Taps, my heart stops. Same thing with Amazing Grace and Hallelujah. I want to play music that tugs at people’s heartstrings. So far I’m just a beginner still fumbling my way through scales and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Yet, I find playing comforts me. And last week, in a meltdown as Silent Night emanated from every corner of the mall, I raced home to my cornet. Then, instead of practicing Twinkle Twinkle, I googled ‘silent night sheet music.’

When I first tried to play Silent Night I sobbed between each note. Huffing and puffing my way up to the second-to-last line, “Sleep in heavenly pea-eeece,” I found the notes were suddenly too high for me to reach. I was fighting to conquer each measure—but then something changed. I started over, and played the piece—minus the five impossibly high notes—like it was one of those jaw-dropping awesomely beautiful tunes I’d been yearning to play. Only five high notes away from making beautiful music, I blew that horn like my song could reach to heaven and back.

I don’t know yet if my practicing the heck out of Silent Night will help desensitize the powerful emotional trigger Christmas music has become. But I’m beginning to understand the healing power of music. And now, in playing my cornet, I’m feeling an even stronger connection than ever to my daughter.


What are the songs that make you cry? What are the triggers you’re experiencing this holiday season? What connects you to your loved ones who died? Got any recommendations for other simple but powerful tunes I could learn?


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6 thoughts on “Hearing Silent Night Makes Me Cry

  1. Pam

    Hi Robin, You were away for the meeting last week where I related that as I shopped in Tops for the snacks we needed to bring, there was a lovely sounding group of 10-12 or so middle school children singing real Christmas carols in the foyer by the Salvation Army collection. They could be heard throughout the store, so as I pushed the cart through the aisles I just let my tears flow because of course any Christmas carol reminds me how we had brought Ian home from the NICU in a red felt Christmas stocking, 28 years ago, and how I expected to regale him more with our memory of that once he was ready to hear about it…….I was still crying as I left stuffing a contribution in the bucket, accepted a candy cane offered by one of the lovely kids, and wondered briefly if they thought it odd that I was crying and acting happy for their singing at the same time.

  2. Lynne Taetzsch

    Robin, so glad you are making progress with your red cornet. After Adrian died, I took up the piano, taking lessons with my granddaughter. When I tried to play Hallelujah, though, I realized it was a lot harder than I’d thought. So I can just cry when I hear Leonard sing it. Thank you for reminding us how powerful music is, and how it connects us to those who have died.

  3. Elaine Mansfield

    Beautiful, Robin. Music, especially Leonard Cohen from the 1960s until recently, sets me off–and I don’t even hear it out there. I hear it in memory in my head. So much emotion held even in those memory songs or when I have a dream with music which happens sometimes. Thank you for working with your grief in your own unique way. You give us all permission to try new things and new ways to give our feelings a place to live.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I am so sorry you can’t hear music these days, Elaine. I don’t get much of it myself without my musicic-master Marika around. But it does have so much to do with memories of particular times. I love that you sometimes get to have music in your dreams. How amazing! And thanks for your line about my “giving … permission to try … new ways to give our feelings a place to live.” Gotta think about that some more, but I think that’s exactly what I want to do. Well, maybe giving blessings or encouragement instead of permission. I mean – really? No one asks me permission for anything these days. Cheers!

  4. Monica Sword

    “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone, “ by Bill Withers gets me every time. Lena introduced us to musicians and bands before they became famous, like Nellie Furtado, the Black Eyed Peas, and others. I miss that…her being tuned in to the up and coming. Sigh.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Oh that’s going to be a great one once I get better at playing, Monica. I love that but it seems to require some confidence and expertise for handling those long extended notes that just beg to be jazzed up. Yeah, my Marika was my music master too, introducing me to all sorts of indie rock and jazz and whatever. I have no musical identity myself and sorely miss her input. I bet your home was lively and full of music when Lena was around. Thanks for putting “Ain’t No Sunshine” in my head on this gray day in Central NY.


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