There’s nothing human beings experience quite like grief.
It’s a sneaky emotion; it can feel like a tidal wave at some times, and barely a whisper at others. It can claw and scratch at your soft underbelly while at the same time weigh down on your shoulders; grief is never just one feeling.
When a friend died after a long illness, songwriter and musician Jamie
Wyman felt the loss in her gut, her heart, her head. Toward the end of her friend’s life, she was unable to communicate due to the illness, and Wyman was left feeling like she had more to say after her friend passed away.
“When someone’s really sick, it can be hard to know what to say, to show your love,” Wyman said in an interview last week.
So she did what comes naturally: she wrote a song about her friend. Music can express feelings on a level that words alone cannot, and Wyman found solace in the songwriting. She shared it with her friend’s mom and boyfriend, and they too found healing, and had them help her write some of the lyrics.
“They got to talk about someone they love,” Wyman said. “It’s just a chance to really talk about someone.”
That was the beginning of what has become a nonprofit and a future album, a project Wyman has dubbed “The Great Blue Song Project.” Wyman realized hers was not the only grief that could benefit from musical catharsis, and reached out to local songwriting friends of hers, with the idea of focusing on breast cancer.
Like most everyone, the musicians know someone affected by breast cancer, and immediately agreed to pair up with one such person and co-write a song with them about their experiences.
Wyman, whose professional background includes social work and advocating for victims of domestic violence, decided to work with her former supervisor in child and family services, Lee Griffin. Griffin spent 30 years in child protection services, and now has breast cancer.
The song the two co-wrote together — over the phone, with Griffin in South Dakota and Wyman in Whitefish — is titled, “I Didn’t Know,” which Griffin selected.
“She was going through treatment and I felt called to offer to write her a healing song,” Wyman said. “When I first sent the song to her, she didn’t respond right away because she said she couldn’t get through the first part without crying. It causes big emotions.”
Four other local songwriters have signed on to the project: Brett Holmquist, Halladay Quist, Cara Alboucq, and Nikki Wilkins. Holmquist, who has performed shows with Wyman, said he wanted to join the project right away.
“There’s so much love at the center of this, and that’s who I am too,” Holmquist said. “I’m just so excited. I think it’s a really, really creative and powerful way to meet the depth of grieving and the challenges it poses.”
The songwriting has just begun, and Wyman hopes to have the full album available by March or April. The project is still searching for one more person affected by breast cancer, whether that’s having it or losing someone to it or supporting a loved one through it. Wyman also said she might have a big-time producer in Los Angeles interested in the project.
Since The Great Blue Song Project is a nonprofit, with 501(c)(3) status pending, future sales of the albums will fund future albums, and others with similar stories can pay a fee to write a song about it. Wyman hopes to find sponsors and donations to build a scholarship fund to pay the fee for others to have their stories turned into songs.
Even the name of the project is based in loving memory. The Great Blue Song Project is named for Wyman’s friend, who in her final years advocated for survivors of violence and worked at a prison rehabilitating sex offenders. Every day when leaving the prison, she saw a great blue heron, who she viewed as a protector.
The project lets people know they aren’t alone when dealing with the hardest aspects of life and death, Wyman said. It’s a way to communicate love and fear and gratitude, or anything grief happens to bring along.
“And also that it’s OK to feel that way,” Wyman said.
For more information on The Great Blue Song Project, visit www.thegreatbluesongproject.com.