Beating the blues, with help from the blues

Ana Freeberg, article author, headshot“Music is powerful. As people listen to it, they can be affected. They respond.” —Ray Charles


I push the buttons on the little radio in my armrest and listen to the low humming of the powerful airplane engines. Static comes over my radio as I change between the 12 numbered stations, hearing classic rock then Spanish music.

Then I come by radio station No. 9.

I stop changing stations and register the familiar music that floods my ears.

I sit and listen to a smooth combination of saxophone, piano and the voice of none other than Ray Charles.

I lean back in my seat, close my eyes and let the music take me back into my memories.

It’s the first week of May in 2005. I see the interior of an old red Saturn, pink fuzzy cotton socks with white grips and mom struggling to walk down long hallways after laying in bed all day.

My mom is at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis with severe


“They were taking a chest X-ray when I fainted in the X-ray area the first night,” my mom later told me.

I knew back then that something was wrong. No mom at home, and dad was constantly stressed.

My dad was left with the responsibility of taking care of me, 4 years old at the time, and my 3-year-old brother. As I asked my dad about the events later, he told me, “It probably started with walking pneumonia, and we didn’t catch it, and she didn’t really let on how sick she was.”

As a temporary family of three, we visited mom each day. And every day, my dad would play a Ray Charles album on our way to the hospital.

He had the blues. So, he listened to them.

“No peace, no peace I find

Just an old, sweet song

Keeps Georgia on my mind”

—“Georgia,” by Ray Charles

It was an emotional time, my dad said, and to have a slow song to listen to was nice.

“I liked the song ‘Georgia,’ because it’s sentimental, it has, to me, emotion in it, and it’s not sad but it’s just emotion,” he said.

I felt unsure about whatever was next.

After a few days of nonstop jazz, the music began to give me a safe feeling. We only listened to it when we would go see mom, so I knew everything would go alright.

“You guys were small, 4 and 3, and so we would go, and there would be chairs, or you would sit on the bed with mom, and you would just lay there with her,” my dad recalled.

When my family was in a hectic time, car rides and Ray Charles helped me feel more comfortable and safe. I still turn to music when something happens, because it helps me relax and gather self-control.

“I think everybody [the family] was very concerned, very worried. Especially when she had to go back and had all the fluid in her lungs,” my dad remembered. “For a period there it felt like it was getting worse and worse in the intensive care.”

Every night, nurses would come and check on mom, which led to no sleep for days, and she wouldn’t get any better.

Mom was tired and needed quiet. When Andres and I would get restless, we would ask to go walk to the cafeteria. Dad would always want to hurry back to the little room, which was quite boring for a pair of little kids.

“One night, I literally put my chair by the door and I stood there, and I didn’t allow any of the staff to come in and check her so she could just get some uninterrupted rest,” my dad said. “Then, she felt better and then she kept getting rest, and then she had to get a lot of rest when she came home.”

Finally, after almost two weeks in the hospital, my mom came home.

My dad tried to make it as normal as possible, but my brother and I always knew something different was going on every day. We needed to be quiet most of the time and needed to help a little bit around the house.

“That’s why I know,

Yes, I know,

Hallelujah, I just love her so”

—“Love Her So,” by Ray Charles

The station began to play commercials again. I sat up in the leather airplane seat. The TV was showing “The Imitation Game.”

I looked down the row of seats and saw my jet-lagged but perfect family, coming home from a totally different place than we were at that stressful time. I turned my attention to the movie and relaxed.

How lucky am I to have the family I do? I should never take it for granted.