The Heartache of Cavatina

MusicMost people associate the beautiful song Cavatina (written by Stanley Myers) for classical guitar with the 1978 movie The Deer Hunter. But Cavatina’s heartbreakingly beautiful melody originally appeared in a 1970 a movie called “The Walking Stick”. The Heroine of The Walking Stick was a 26 year old woman named Deborah Dainton who walked with a limp because of childhood polio. She used a cane (walking stick).

The Walking Stick came out the same year my father died suddenly of a heart attack while he and I were downhill skiing. He was 52 years old and I was sixteen.

Needless to say, 1970 was a fog of inexpressible grief for me, but somewhere out of that fog, and unbeknownst to me, Cavatina embedded itself into my little grey cells. Perhaps that was why I did not go to see The Deer Hunter. Somewhere deep inside, that melody spoke to me about things I could not bring myself to revisit.

For years I could not quite identify what it was or why Cavatina caused me such heartache, only that a great sadness overcame me with the opening bars of that melody. I think I know now.

Music can express the human condition in ways words can not. That is why music has been so instrumental in my grief and disability journeys.

Cavatina was written for the guitar. There was a time, many years ago, when I was a skilled guitarist — before multiple sclerosis stripped away my ability to play. At about the same time as I lost the ability to play my guitar, I started using a walking stick. One walking stick became two, then crutches, then a scooter and wheelchair. The MS was attacking many physical functions.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you: and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. …” (Isaiah 43:2) 

God said those words to Israel because He was their only savior. God is that to you and me through faith in Jesus Christ. I happen to think that perhaps God might say those words to us too, His adopted children. Grief journeys are fluid like a river that can threaten to sweep over a griever and submerge him beneath the waves of his circumstances.

At first, grief can be so intense that the griever does not know how he or she can face another day or continue living. A bleak future stretches out before the griever like a barren desert. The griever’s reality is distorted. Nothing interests him. He goes through the motions of living. (Daily routines can actually be a godsend that calls the griever to get out of bed each morning.)

Balance Between Solitude and Community

Whether the griever knows it or not he needs both solitude and community. His “Whys?” are unanswerable. The only responses are tears and love. Solitude brings a needed release of tears and reflection on his new realities; community is needed to maintain human connection and give love — even if the griever does not want it and just wants to be left alone.

The griever’s desperate prayers may seem to either fall into an empty universe or appeal to an indifferent God. The griever cries, “Where is God?”

I have learned from experience that although we may not be able detect God’s presence, He is still with us. Like an crying infant to hungry to accept the bottle at its lips, the activity of early intense grief drowns out Christ’s still small voice whispering to us. We may be too frantic for comfort to actually accept it.

Do not forget that in his darkest and most anguished hour, our Lord felt abandoned by God. He cried, “Eli,Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”[1]

Those words of Christ meant so much to me at my darkest moments of loss and sickness. They told me that He knows. He knows my anguish even though I may not sense His presence, I had to simply believe God was with me because God said he would not leave me or forsake me [2]. God cannot lie.[3]

It is in solitude that we begin to detect the first inklings of God’ presence; it comes with the re-awakening of the interior life after the shock of grief has subsided. It is at times of solitude that understanding will eventually come.

In his Christian classic book The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis wrote about interior consolation as Christ begins to speak to the faithful heart willing to hear: “I will listen to what the Lord will say to me.[4] Blessed is the soul that listens when God speaks to it[5] and receives  consoling words from His lips.”[6]

It is within community that the griever has interconnectedness, and fellowship in his grief. It is in a Christian community of concern that the griever should be comforted with the tenderness of Christ-like love. Sometimes it is loved-ones in the grievers community of concern who can help the dark passage through grief and loss to eventually emerge with a renewed sense of self fostered by Christ.

I have been the beneficiary of this balance. No longer does Cavatina trigger heartbreaking memories of loss. It is the sheer beauty of the melody, and nothing more, that can move me to tears, even as an old man.


[1] Matthew 27:46. The NEW JEROME BIBLICAL COMMENTARY (Prentice Hall,1990, p.672) comments about this passage: “Eli, Eli; Jesus cry of dereliction comes from Ps 22.1.Mathew may quote it  in Hebrew except for the last word, Aram sebaq, “leave”, “abandon.” The words express Jesus’ feeling of abandonment, but not despair, since they are prayed to God.”

[2] Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5. (cf. John 14.18

[3]Hebrews 6.18
[4]Psalm 85:9.
[5] 1 Samuel 3:9.
[6] Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ: In Four Books (New York: Random House, 1998), Book Three, Chapter 1, p. 73.

Mark Davis Pickup is chronically ill and disabled with degenerative multiple sclerosis. He is an advocate for life issues and disability inclusion across North America. He and his wife, LaRee, have been married for 38 years. They live in Alberta Canada with their two adult children and five grandchildren. Mark is available to address issues of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and issues revolving around suffering that often fuel calls for euthanasia. He writes regularly at http://markpickup.org and http://humanlifematters.org. For bookings, contact him by e-mail at MPickup@shaw.ca or telephone (780) 929-9230. Mark Pickup's bi-weekly column can be read in the Western Catholic Reporter (Canada) at http://www.wcr.ab.ca/.

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