Terribly Happy.

This is such a heavy phrase for me, because it has come to represent a full year of my life in a way that I never could have predicted.  I would like to share the story of this year with you, if you have the time and inclination.

On May 22, 2010, I married the girl of my dreams, my beautiful Stephanie. We had previously shared four wonderful years together, and there was no question in my mind that she was the one. We had a beautiful wedding.

On May 29, 2010, the day after we returned from our honeymoon, we discovered my new, lovely wife had something wrong. Cancer. Diffuse large b-cell lymphoma specifically. She had never been sick a day in her life. She was, at this time, 23 years old.

And so began a journey that for us lasted a little over six months, a journey of endless waiting and incomprehensible test results, of pain and sadness and long, weary nights.
My wife and I were cast into a life we could never have imagined, driving six hours every two weeks to Houston for week-long inpatient chemotherapy, watching helplessly as she was put through trial after trial. It took its toll on us both.

During all of this, though, I was struck by an idea. Being a musician, I channel most of my emotion into music, and music keeps me sane. So I began to write an album, about all of our experiences of these past six months, written basically in real-time as I experienced it.The album encompasses learning about the illness, fighting it, and then tells of the eventual victory we experienced after my strong, amazing wife put it behind her. This album stands as a testament to that victory, and I would love if others in similar situations could listen to it and realize that you are not alone, and draw some small hope from that.

I wrote, performed, recorded, and produced this album, and my idea is that I’ll charge three dollars for the whole thing; however, I leave it up to you to decide what it is worth. My wife and I racked up quite a bit of debt during this time, because unfortunately hospitals are extremely expensive, so any extra donation would be greatly appreciated. If you do decide to donate, please click on the drop-down menu by the buy now button for some different payment options. If I raise enough money, I’d like to donate some myself to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, as their help during our trying times was also greatly appreciated.

So, in closing, while I hope that you can listen to this album and take your own meaning from it, I had a very specific story in mind when I wrote it, and I’d like to share that story with you here, track by track. Without further ado:

The Reveal - This song is where the story begins, with finding out my wife was sick. I chose the pipe organ because I wanted it to feel surreal, but in a bad, uncomfortable way, to sort of lull the listener into a weird trance. When my wife told me, we were standing near a little inlet, looking out on to rolling waves, and it felt like they were just crashing into me. Also, at the end, there’s a moment when the music changes, and for me it represents the ultimate realization that it was true, and there was no going back to how things were. It hit me like a punch in the face. I tried to represent that as well as I could.

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Test Results - This song is about the endless waiting for tests to finish that my wife and I experienced when we first learned of her illness. That horrible limbo where you don’t know how bad it’s going to be, and you’re still reeling from the news from before. I wanted the song to feel smothering, claustrophobic. I put a lot of my anger into this song. This was a difficult time for us.

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Drowning – When I wrote this one, I was nearly overwhelmed. Everything was so fragile, and the situation so dire, that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My wife was constantly sleeping from all the medication, and I really had my first brush with the helplessness that dealing with cancer brings. I wanted this song to carry that feeling, so I made it very bass-heavy. I wanted it to feel like an immense weight resting on top of you, like being underneath dark water and looking up at the light dancing on the surface that’s now so far out of reach, and so you just float along, and wait.

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Never Giving Up – There’s a lot of symbolism in this one. Almost all of the instrumentation, all the way down to the glass slide, was chosen to represent the ebb and flow of emotion that you constantly feel while you try to adjust to your crazy new life. That back and forth, good and bad tide was our whole world, and it takes everything you have to hold on. Basically, this song is about refusing to let go.

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Long Drives
– This is one of the two instrumental tracks on the album, and in both I feel there was a very specific reason to not include lyrics. This one is about the long car rides we made, back and forth, six hours at a time. When you’re in the car that long, you don’t really talk. Sure, there’s some small conversation here and there, but long periods are spent just looking out at the road as it whooshes by you, carrying you closer to that place where you don’t want to go, and you have no choice but to be silenced by it. I tried to give the song a propulsive rhythm, hypnotic almost, full of wistfulness and longing. The feeling of an empty highway at one o’clock in the morning and the terrible purpose of moving toward something you fear.

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Treatment
– This is the longest song on the record; I believe it clocks in at just over eight minutes. It really had to be though, because for us this was by far the longest, most exhaustive part of the whole process. Cancer treatment is such a difficult thing to endure, for the patient as well as their loved ones. You have to submit to basically being poisoned in the hope that it will make you better, and I had to sit there helplessly and watch as that process took its toll on my wife. I wanted this song to reflect that weary feeling of frustration that sort of takes over when you’re stuck in the hospital for weeks on end, and no matter how much you want to believe, you’re just not sure things are going to be ok.

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Aftereffects – This is kind of a companion song to Treatment, because it details the in-between times, after we left the hospital, waiting to go back. I wanted it to feel delirious and fragile, and yet still overwhelming, to show the sadness of that time, and the cost.

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Remembering Before - This one is about the times my wife and I shared before the illness, and at the time, the longing I felt for it. I wanted the track itself to stand out from the others, so I used a different style of recording (specifically the tiny, imbedded mic in my laptop) when I created it. It doesn’t sound like it belongs, but it’s not supposed to. It belongs to before.

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Trying to Sleep in the Hospital - This is the last instrumental track on the record, and I think by far the strangest. I wanted to capture that feeling of lying awake in a cold, uncomfortable hospital cot, listening to all the strange sounds echoing around the room and trying to fight the overwhelming desperation that comes with letting your guard down enough to go to sleep. I wanted the rhythm to be jerky, uneven, and disturbing. Hopefully, you can hear what I’m talking about.

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Home, Again – I wrote this track after my wife had been released from the hospital, but before we found out that she was going to be ok. It’s about the idea that, when you’re in the hospital, you get it in your head that if you can just make it home, everything will be alright. However, when you do finally get home, you realize that that is simply not the case, and that in fact the absence of all that effortless normalcy is a lot more noticeable. Still, though, we had basically made it through, and we were feeling a little better, so this song is a little more upbeat. This is my wife’s favorite song on the record.

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The Verdict – This is when I found out she was going to be ok. If I said in the first song that I wanted it to be surreal in a bad way, then this track is surreal in a good way. I took some of the lyrics directly from the things we said that day, and in truth this is the hardest song for me to listen to. I think it is the most straight-forward track on the album, and the most confessional. This was when it really turned around for us. Although we were still in that weird, emotional limbo that trauma like that brings, we survived, and we protected and cared for each other. I am closer to my wife now than I have ever been to any other person in my life, and I couldn’t live without her.

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On On and On
– The final song on the album sort of sums up my feelings on everything, and I wanted it to have that propulsive, exhilarated feeling that comes with learning that you’ve beaten something that threatened your life, and you get to go on.
I wanted the album to end on a crest because, although this story is over, our story keeps going, and for that I am forever thankful.

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And so that’s it. I hope that you enjoyed the story behind the album, and that you enjoy the album for some time to come. I wanted to do what I could to reach out to others, because when I was in this position I never felt more alone. It doesn’t have to be cancer, it could be anything; just know, no matter how far it goes, you can come back, and you will be stronger for it. I’d also like to take a moment to say thank you once again to all the people who aided and supported us over the past year; we owe you all so much, and we could’ve never done it without you. Also, I encourage anyone who would like to create something similar to contact me at seanimel@terriblyhappy.net and maybe we can see about posting them on the site. Thank you for your time.

Sean Imel.

Digital Album Purchase


© 2011

 

4 Responses to Terribly Happy.

  1. Frances Alleman on June 27, 2011 at 3:34 PM:

    Omg what beautiful music and writing. I love music that moves me and touches my heart and soul. You are an amazing writer and I LOVE YOUR songs and listening to them. Keep up the GREAT work. God Bless you and your lovely wife, May the Lord and his angels from heavens skies watch over her.

  2. Andrea Deno Morris on June 30, 2011 at 11:01 PM:

    Thanks for sharing yalls story. I’m happy to hear the way it ended :)
    Good job on this album! Its awesome!

  3. Susan Taylor on July 26, 2011 at 4:42 PM:

    What beautiful, emotional music, Sean. You and Stephanie are a testament to the strength and beauty of marriage. I’m very happy that things have worked out so well, and I pray continued blessings on you both! Can’t wait to enjoy the album more!

  4. Christopher Ryan on June 20, 2012 at 6:15 PM:

    Wow Sean, this is amazing stuff. Everything, the way you put it together, wrote about it, the way it sounds, it’s awesome. Thanks for sharing. Very talented.

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