The love song that taught me how to mourn

There are few things that I have shed a genuine tear over besides a puppy with downturned ears and the sight of old people crying, the latter getting me every time. But if there were a third it would be this love song.

“I don’t believe in an interventionist god
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did, I would kneel down and ask him
Not to intervene when it came to you,”

The song is “Into my Arms” by Nick Cave. Throughout my late teens and early 20s it has repeatedly laid waste to my inner walls and flooded me with grief the likes of which I’ve never felt. And although I’ve proclaimed it to be a love song, the piano playing in the background makes it more befitting for a funeral.

Lyrically it has a sweet message about a man and this great love of his. When I was younger I thought this was the template that all my future romantic entanglements should follow. Filled with passion and a sort of melodramatic “die for you” quality. And if it didn’t feel like this, then I didn’t want it. At the time that was the only interpretation I had for Cave’s ballad.

“Oh, not to touch a hair on your head
Leave you as you are
If he felt he had to direct you,
Then direct you into my arms,”

This was because it was instilled into me that romantic love, the kind television and movies express, was the kind of love that made life worth living. Craving kinship and understanding my feelings grew more complex. I realized that the love extended from family and friends was equally, if not even more important than romantic love.

“And I don’t believe in the existence of angels,
But looking at you I wonder if that’s true,”

It was a realization that would come later, for over the course of my adolescent life I yearned for romantic love. It seemed to me then that I was getting my heart broken often, little did I know that was really just the pangs of a hurt ego. It wasn’t until I felt real loss that I experienced the pain of a broken heart. It was when my Tia died.

“But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you,
Oh, to each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk like Christ in grace and love
And guide you into my arms”

In refusal to trauma dump, I say this: some losses are so great they leave you feeling clueless, like everything you’ve known up until that point amounts to nothing in the wake of such devastation. I found the song just before her death. I was around 17 when I heard it on the soundtrack of some romantic comedy that had Rachel McAdams in it, it sounded so different to me then.

With that life changing event, I had changed, and the song with it. Now the melody revealed the sorrow behind Cave’s words. The sweet message that I thought belonged to a love song, now sounded more like the tender hymns of a swan song.

Her death was far greater than any heartbreak I had ever had felt before because it was real. Thing is, I’ve never really known how to express grief, something in me wouldn’t let me cry. Still, when it was just me and this song there was no holding back.

Over time the song taught me to mourn in a healthy manner. While not a substitute for talking with my loved ones, it has been a source of comfort during times of need. And even though I didn’t understand Cave’s songwriting then, it now feels like a sort of audio message from a friend — a kind of audio hug from Nick Cave.


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