Kay Tucker shares how playing music helped her following the sudden death of her husband.

I am a professionally trained cellist and met my wonderful husband Paul, just a year after graduation and at the end of my first year in my new job as a peripatetic music teacher.

During our relationship, just over three decades, we adopted two disabled children and I cut the cloth of my career in music to work around the family. Paul supported me tremendously and by the time he died I had enjoyed a fulfilling career which encompassed a private teaching practice, performing chamber music and adjudicating music festivals.

With Paul’s support, I also developed a system for teaching musicianship and playing initially for the very young called Stringbabies and had the joy (sometimes battles!) of seeing it adopted widely by teachers throughout the UK and abroad. Paul was a skilled craftsman and had also made me a beautiful cello and bow, which I named ‘Harry,’ his childhood nickname.

My mother died just four months before Paul, and I had found that taking myself off to learn some new music on the cello helped greatly whenever I wanted to scream at someone or throw a few plates. However, Paul’s death in February 2021 came completely out of the blue. He had started to become ill just after Christmas with what seemed an innocuous stomach upset which rapidly grew worse. He was admitted to hospital just before Valentine’s Day and incorrectly diagnosed with bowel cancer and given months to live. In fact, he had an extremely aggressive lymphoma and died just 16 days later.

A couple of days after he was diagnosed, my prayerful 99-year-old neighbour phoned to say that she believed that God wanted me to play my cello and that He was going to give me a new melody. I was gracious of course but inwardly seething; how insensitive of her to come out with this super-spiritual fluff when I had just been given the most devastating news of my life!

Paul died and I could not face playing my cello for many months. Then one day, a close friend phoned me and using the exact same words as my neighbour encouraged me to take up my cello again. I listened this time and after a few weeks took my cello to play for a friend who was dying of cancer. The friend, Jennifer Rees Larcombe (renowned Christian author), told me that she felt her pain leave as I played and encouraged me to consider playing in a hospice.

As it so happened, my local hospice was advertising for volunteer hospice musicians and so I duly applied and was accepted to play for an hour a week. Unfortunately, after three months a small handful of relatives had complained that the tones of the cello were too emotional and the decision, rightly or wrongly, was taken by clinicians to ask me to stop playing. Naturally this was very upsetting but shortly afterwards, I was asked by Beauty from Ashes, the charity founded by Jennifer Rees Larcombe, to consider playing in a monthly programme on Zoom, called Sitting with Psalms and strings.

My passion for teaching the cello was also shot to pieces by my husband’s death, but in September 2023 I started an MA in strings teaching and slowly but surely, I have found my passion and enjoyment returning.

When I was a child, being bullied at school, I took refuge in playing my cello once I got home; the music and the very act of playing and producing sound took me away from my worries and gave me a channel to direct my emotions. I have found that exploring music I had not learnt before and enjoying the gentle repetition of phrases in order to perfect them very soothing. It also helps that I play the cello that Paul made for me, in preference to my older professional cello.

Music does have the power to reflect our emotions and affect them, which is why it is such a powerful tool in therapy. You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy trying to play an instrument, and I have found that when I am focusing on playing, I forget my grief for a little while.

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