On September 26, 1969, the Beatles released perhaps their quintessential album, Abbey Road. The timing could not have come at a better time for me. My idealism was badly damaged from the events of the previous summer, a collection of weeks that quite literally changed me and my family in the most devastating ways. I was not yet twenty one and I felt like a forty year old. My mother had endured a crushing mental breakdown during July and August and I had reluctantly accepted the responsibility for her care and that of my brothers. I was shoved out of my naive and isolated world into the hellishness of reality as I struggled to keep everyone together and to make decisions that were foreign to my nature. I was a bride of less than a year who was being tested more than I thought I might bear. The Beatles came to my rescue with their innovative music that eased the beasts that were battling inside of me.
There would be many a time when I would listen to the songs that became so comforting to me, not so much because they were happy and lighthearted, which they were not, but because I marveled at the genius of the work that was unlike anything that the world had ever before heard. I was able to escape into the guitar rifts and poetry of the lyrics. Here Comes the Sun became my mantra. It gave me hope that somehow my little family would one day reclaim the happiness that had been so missing in the dark days of Mama’s illness. To this very day I can’t hear the strains of that tune without remembering both the pain that I was feeling and the tranquility that the music afforded me.
I was still in a honeymoon period with my husband Mike with whom I was madly in love but I had no idea what an incredible man I had married until those trying times. He would rise to the occasion and never leave my side over the decades in which I struggled to keep my mother healthy. He was loving and understanding and the two of us listened to Abbey Road together sensing that its brilliance expressed the feelings that we shared. My story might have been quite different had it not been for Mike. He was my anchor and my strength. I listened to lyrics from the album like “Love is you” and understood totally what that meant with regard to my devoted spouse. We may have been two babies playing house but we had something quite magical happening and somehow the Beatles had captured every emotion that we were experiencing.
I had little idea that in only a few weeks I would learn that I was pregnant with my eldest daughter Maryellen. We had no plan as to how we were going to find the money to raise a child but we could not have been happier. It was like a blessed miracle to learn that something bright and beautiful was going to happen to take our mind away from the fear and anxiety that had been stalking us. When Maryellen was born the following July I often listened to Abbey Road when I fed her in the middle of the night. It was one of the only ways I was able to keep myself awake when I was so sleep deprived. I loved the line “one sweet dream came true today” because that was exactly the way I was feeling. The contentment that I enjoyed with the birth of my little girl filled my heart. It erased the despair that I had known only a year before and replaced it with a feeling that we were all going to be okay.
The years would go by. Mike and I only grew closer as we raised our little girl and then added another girl child named Catherine. My mother would go in and out of emergencies with her mental illness. I never really became accustomed to the sadness that I felt whenever she had a psychotic break. I did my best in getting her the medical help that she needed but I always felt heartbroken that her problems were chronic. I so wanted her to mend and never be sick again but that was not to be.
Abbey Road would forever be an old standby for me, a favorite of which I never grew tired. I heard new words and musical innovation each time that I listened. It somehow came to remind me of the entire span of my life. All that I am is somehow encapsulated in the music.
Imagine how wonderful it was for me to receive a text from my grandson Andrew this week telling me that he had been listening to Abbey Road at college. We traded stories about the songs that we most love and I could tell that somehow the music had reached as deeply into his psyche as it had into mine. I found myself wondering what he might think if he knew that I had rocked his mother in my arms while listening to the same brilliant harmonics back when I was only a year older than he now is. I found it somehow ironically meaningful that his birthday is on September 26, the same date as when the album first became available to the public. I thought about the enormous influence the Beatles have had on so many souls and particularly on me, providing so much solace during the most difficult moments and the happiest ones as well.
The day on which my mother died can only be described as beautiful. We all will eventually leave this earth and she knew that her end had come. She was ready and convinced that she would soon be in her heavenly home. Everyone who had ever loved her was gathered around on that day, including Andrew. Mama asked my Mike to take care of the family, an honor that he humbly agreed to accept. We said our prayers and our goodbyes. When she had breathed her last I once again thought of the Beatles and their prescient words that seemed almost to have been written especially for her and our family, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” We had overcome one problem after another hand in hand only to emerge with an ever stronger bond time and again. Through it all the Beatles have continuously been there as we have traveled down our long and winding road learning with each step that love is us.