Woman of Sorrow

I’ve been traveling down the Musical Lane of Memory, and have decided, over the course of a few weeks, to share a bunch of songs that I wrote and collaborated on with richly talented friends many years ago, and to perhaps share some memories attached to the songs.


I’m going to start with Woman of Sorrow – a song I, myself, until yesterday, hadn’t listened to in probably 15 years – because I was embarrassed by it, for reasons explained below.


Toby Petrie and I wrote the chorus and bridge years before it became the song that it is now. My sister, Jill Bess Neimeyer, was writing a play about the topic of rape, and really liked the piece that Toby and I had written, but wanted to know if I could complete the song. In stepped Jefferson Denim who wrote the music to the verses and connected them to the chorus, etc. And, ta-da. The full song was born. I don’t think Toby and I knew which came first, the music or the lyrics, or how a lot of our songs evolved, but with this one, I know I was mulling over one of my favorite scriptures about Jesus being a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief. I always thought that was beautifully expressed. I experienced myself at the time as being well acquainted with grief, and those words always gave me rest.


I remember, not long after it was finished, submitting Woman of Sorrow to a Christian music songwriting contest and getting some feedback which prompted me to put the song away and cease playing it for anyone else. He told me the emotional payoff of the song “wasn’t big enough.” At the time I found that criticism crushing. Now, I look upon it as a few cursory and unenlightened words out of the mouth of a man who had never been raped, never lost a child, never divorced, never experienced crushing depression, the suicide of a spouse, or lost a loved one to cancer. If you listen, and I hope you will, the pay off is that the “woman of sorrow,” to whom the words are addressed, is reassured she does not suffer alone; that she has someone walking alongside her in her sorrow, and that the promise of the Beatitudes – “blessed are they that mourn, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – is real. I can’t imagine a better pay off. Can you?


Woman of Sorrow


Lyrics by Kay Bess
Music by Toby Petrie and Jefferson Denim


In your eyes I see you there alive
Trying to escape, trying to survive
With all you’ve taken on, you’d be more than justified
If your spirit gave way, if your heart broke down and died
But have you come so far
Just to hide behind your scars?
All that breaks your heart
Isn’t half of who you are


Woman of sorrow
Woman of sorrow
Holding on ‘til tomorrow
When will you see
Woman of sorrow
Woman of sorrow
I think it’s time to let it go
Set yourself free


You have trials to come and tears yet to weep
But rest assured you will be known
by the company you keep
No you won’t suffer alone
I understand it as my own
Poor in spirit, rich in pain
All of heaven is ours to gain


Blessed be the one who mourns
Willing to wear this crown of thorns
Blessed be her broken heart
The strangest gift
A place to start


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