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HELP: The Inspiration (Part 1)

HELP: THE INSPIRATION Part 1

Generally, my songs tend to have universal interpretation. They work on many levels. And I believe (and like) that people can read into a song what it personally means to them. But often, for me … and it is the case with HELP … one thing / situation / experience may drive the inspiration more than others.


( You can access HELP here ... Help by Zeek Mitchell Z - DistroKid )


Imagine if you were aware … painfully aware … that your time on this earth was ticking down? Imagine you were deep into COVID … literally struggling to breathe ... with little to no contact with loved ones. Imagine that level of isolation & fear. How would you feel?


My mother did not pass from COVID. We were fortunate to keep her from contracting it. But she did spend the last couple months of her life in the hospital in 2020. So COVID rules governed. Fortunately, it was in between the COVID peaks … so we were allowed some visitation … though not nearly what we would have liked, especially as the severity of her condition became clear.



BACKGROUND

My mother was a tough cookie, who used up more than her share of cats’ lives during her 83 years. She suffered through more combined: heart attacks … by-passes … stents … poor circulation conditions … joint replacements … nearly debilitating & progressive degeneration of her back / shoulders / hips … global pain conditions (osteoarthritic, fibromyalgia, etc) … GI conditions … surgeries … and emergency room / hospital / rehab facility visits … than any human in planetary history. BET!


All this played out over a fairly long duration. Literally 30+ years. (I remember her first knee replacement was during my college years in the mid-80’s). Of course, the frequency of issues increased substantially after she was 70 … the last 10+ years of her life. And during the last 3-5 years, the acceleration was scary.


I saw it coming. So, fortunately, I retired in time to be able to spend more time with her in her final few years. I became her confidante (well, I was that most of our lives) … her primary healthcare watchdog, interpreter, meds manager, chaperone to doctors & hospitals, lunch companion, buddy, etc.


Abdominal pain became an increasing issue for her in her final handful years and was what brought her to the hospital (AGAIN!) in August-September 2020, a stay from which she would never return. Some conditions seemed related. Some seemed completely unrelated, like her hernias (which ended up requiring a couple surgeries … one quite extensive for a woman her age … over a period of a few years).


She often would think she had “abdominal cancer”. Ultimately, in those final couple months she spent in the hospital, she was, in fact, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer … the same thief that stole my father in 2004. We’re not sure how much of her GI complaints & blockages can be traced back to the pancreatic cancer … and, if so, when those connections started … but it didn’t matter. Her symptoms were terrible and were going to have be dealt with, regardless of cause & origin.


My mother’s premonition reminded me a little bit of a David Bowie story I had heard. That he once had been told by a psychic that he would die at the age of 69 … a prediction he clung to in his later years. What happened? He passed the day after his 69th birthday … after releasing his final album … the Black Star masterpiece ... on his birthday.


I provide all this background so you understand just how long and arduous a marathon … a triatholon, really … that this woman endured.


THE FINAL WEEKS THAT TRULY INSPIRED THE SONG

So, in late August 2020 … during a period of time when pancreatic cancer was suspected of causing havoc with her bile ducts & functions of her kidney / liver / gall bladder … I received a call from a GI surgical specialist (Intervention Radiologist) while on a long walk in the woods of the Wissahickon Valley. Her resulting blockages were causing backups of toxic fluids. He told me, regardless of what the long-term treatment & care plans would be, they wanted (needed?) to immediately install a gall bladder drain to drain off the toxic fluids building up there.



As he explained things, the images and analogies started coming to me. “So, you are basically throwing her a lifeline while she is treading water?” I asked. “Like, whether or not an actual boat comes along (i.e., a surgery or treatment) to save her for good, this is at least a temporary floatation device?”


I imagined my mother as a tired swimmer, treading water, out on the open ocean. Alone. Feeling isolated. The fear of the unknown … including that, perhaps, this was it … the end. Storms, choppier waves, sharks … you name it … could be a means to the end.


( You can access HELP here ... Help by Zeek Mitchell Z - DistroKid )


“Help me, I’m drowning. Help me, I’m drowning. Help me, I’m drowning. Arms are tired (I’m so tired) … can’t feel the oxygen”.


With those images in mind, I hung up from that call with the greatest level of empathy one person can have for another. There was the immediate circumstances but I knew she had been “competing in a triathalon” (treading water) for all those years before, as well.


And she endured a lot of that alone. Because that was her M.O. … to not “bother anyone”. So imagine the feelings of isolation. The questions & fears. Where do you go when you expire? Is there life after? Will you meet up with your soul mates from this plane? Will there be those “voices calling” you?


As a songwriter, I knew a song was brewing. The first words of the song ... “Help me. I’m out here. I’m all alone. This open water” … came fairly quickly. So did a rudimentary trip hop groove as I continued walking the Wissahickon … & “sounds” & ambience were brewing too.


Within a couple weeks, it became clear that her condition … caused or exacerbated (?) by pancreatic cancer … was too far along to be operable or treated aggressively by chemo … certainly for a woman as old as my mother . The fighter was wearying. The tired swimmer was now an EXHAUSTED SWIMMER … surrendering to the tide of ineluctable destiny.



We decided to “stop the madness”. Stop torturing her with needles (she hated them … a “tough stick” … yet had to endure so many in her final decades) … stop trying to find the exact root cause(s) when the decisions & almost-100%-likely-results would be the same, regardless. It was time to give my mother back some dignity … to get her into a palliative, comfort care program. With unanimous consent of the siblings (me, brother, sister) and my mother, Barbara Bormack was entered into hospital-bound hospice care on September 15, 2020. (There was acceptance … even contentment … like in the final chorus of the song).


The goals were achieved. She had 5 days of comfort care, mostly conscious on days 1-2 ... where she was comfortable, happy, and taking time to say final goodbyes to many family & friends over the phone. She progressively zoned out through day 3. Days 4 & 5 she was more or less “unconscious”, though you could tell she was internally, subconsciously, responding to certain communication.



My mother passed on September 20, 2020, holding the hands of her two sons (me & my brother, Matt). On the final day of Yom Kippur. Like the Notorious RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg). Apparently, there is religious / cosmic significance to passing during that holiest of holidays … a special place in the heavens for those passing from this plane. Not unexpected for this "saintly" mother of mine (not just my opinion; you can ask literally anyone who knew her).


I’m also convinced that she felt like she could finally “let go”. She was such a fighter … always … most often, she fought valiantly for her family. She wanted to make sure we would “always be together … would always take care of each other.” The fact that my brother & I were with her together … holding her hands ... kibitzing … telling jokes … I’m sure comforted her in those final moments, her final breaths. I knew what those final breaths look like & sound like. I happened to be with my father when he passed, too. “No oxygen … voices calling”.



My mother & I were typically sympatico. She knew I was the strongest of her 3 children. So she would tell me things she wouldn’t tell anyone else. I knew for months she was ready to let go. Ready to die, she said. My brother & her had a different kind of relationship … a more motherly, (dysfunctionally) co-dependent relationship. She always mothered him. Stayed alive for him as much as anything. And he wasn’t going to be as accepting, as much as I tried to prepare him for days, weeks, months ... even telling him that morning as we entered the hospital that this was likely it ... the day. That we must make her comfortable and make her feel that it is ok to let go. That was our job!


Predictably, when that last breath came … and I knew it and told him so … his reaction was to scramble. “We need to get someone!” cried Matt. “No, no”, I said. “Matt, this is it. It’s what she wants. We need to let her go. We need to let her know it is ok”. My mother was telling me for months … I could feel her telling me in that moment … and I had to tell Matt …


“It’s ok, I’m drowning. It’s alright, I’m drowning. Let go, I’m drowning. No oxygen, voices calling.”


( You can access HELP here ... Help by Zeek Mitchell Z - DistroKid )


It would take months to complete the song structure & lyrics … beyond that 1st verse that came to me during my walk in the Wissahickon. There was a lot to absorb in the fall of 2020. The funeral. The aftermath. The estate. Keeping tabs on my brother. Regular life.


But as 2020 turned to 2021, I got back into a recording rhythm with my buddy & recording engineer, Joey DiTullio. As one of my top priorities, I knew I needed to get this song completed. She deserved it and I felt a powerful song brewing. I knuckled down and got a very strong-effort demo complete during January / early February 2021. The rest … the completion of the song … is a story for another day: HELP – INSPIRATION Part 2, coming soon. But I’ll leave you with the lyrics …


HELP LYRICS:

Help me. I’m out here. I’m all alone. This open water.

I’m so tired. Trying to stay afloat. Feel I’m gonna drown. Please throw a life line.

As I take a last breath, I sigh and I pray …

Help me, I’m drowning. Help me, I’m drowning. Help me, I’m drowning. Arms are tired, can’t feel the oxygen.

Help me, I’m drowning. Help me, I’m drowning, Help me, I’m drowning. Arms so tired, can’t feel the oxygen.

Oh no (oh no). I’m so cold, I can’t breathe. These scars inside me.

It’s ok. (It’s ok). It’s alright. (It’s alright). I love you more than words. Hear them calling, from the other side.

As I take my last breath, I cry and I pray …

Help me, I’m drowning. Help me, I’m drowning. Help me, I’m drowning. I’m so tired, can’t feel the oxygen.

Help me, I’m drowning. Help me, I’m drowning, Help me, I’m drowning. I’m so tired, can’t feel the oxygen.

As I take my last breath, I smile and I say …

It’s ok, I’m drowning. It’s alright, I’m drowning. Let go, I’m drowning. Arms so tired, can’t feel the oxygen.

It’s ok, I’m drowning. It’s alright, I’m drowning, Let go, I’m drowning. No oxygen, voices calling.

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