Fred Stobaugh is no musician. In fact, he freely admits his lack of melody, yet he's penned a love song that has inspired countless men and women around the world.
Oh Sweet Lorraine is an ode to Stobaugh's late wife, Lorraine, who passed away just months before their 73rd wedding anniversary. The couple met in 1938, at an A&W root beer stand where Lorraine was working as a carhop.
"She was just the prettiest girl I ever saw. She was real timid, but I just fell in love with her right there," Stobaugh says in a video released by Green Shoe Studio, a local recording company based in Peoria, Illinois. Green Shoe recorded and produced Stobaugh's song and released it for purchase on iTunes.
So, how does a 96-year-old man with no musical experience become a viral sensation on YouTube and Vimeo with a Billboard Hot 100 song on iTunes? Stobaugh told an unforgettable story to the right people.
What started as a guerilla marketing campaign for Green Shoe Studio soon turned in to something much more profound, thanks to Stobaugh.
The studio hosted an online singer/songwriter contest for local artists who were instructed to upload videos of themselves performing songs they wrote onto YouTube. Green Show planned to select one winner whose song they would record and produce.
Although they were swamped by online submissions, what really caught the producers' attention was a nondescript manila folder that found its way to the studio via regular mail. There was no recording, just written song lyrics and a letter signed by Stobaugh: "P.S. I don't sing; I would scare people, haha."
The letter told a tale of a couple who spent three quarters of a century in love, only to be recently parted by death. Stobaugh had penned the lyrics for the song soon after his wife's death during a moment of quiet contemplation in his living room. "It just came right to me almost and I just kept humming it and it seemed to just fit her."
He saw the advertisement for the singer/songwriter contest and sent in his submission, not anticipating any sort of response. But, Stobaugh was surprised to receive a telephone call from Jacob Colgan, producer at Green Shoe. Colgan informed him that he wanted to professionally record and produce the song.
Money was the older man's first concern—he didn't have any to spare. Colgan assured him that cost wasn't an issue. "He began to cry on the phone and said, 'Why would you do this for me?' " Colgan recalls. "I told him, 'It's not that we're doing this for you, it's that we're doing this together. Music means so much to so many people, and your song touched us. We feel that this is the best way to do this.' "
The longtime producer admits to being uncharacteristically nervous when he finally presented Stobaugh with the official recording of Oh Sweet Lorraine. His worries turned out to be unfounded; the older man loved it.
Nothing can take away the pain of losing a lifelong love, but Lorraine's memory lives on, not only in the form of a song, but, more importantly, in the heart of her devoted husband. "It was a wonderful 75 years that I just often think, it's kind of unreal. I was dreaming, or something. But, it was real. That's all I can say: it was real. Yep, I really miss her, it just doesn't seem right, just like a dream."
The Complex Nature of Grief
Losing a loved one, whether it's a spouse, a parent or another aging family member can bring up a host of confusing and complex emotions for caregivers.
Those who've been taking care of an elder throughout a lengthy illness may find their sadness tinged with an odd sense of relief that their loved one's pain is finally over and the burden of being a caregiver has been lifted. Others may experience a sense of profound guilt, thinking that they should have done more to make their loved ones comfortable and happy. Even caregivers whose family members have detailed their end-of-life preferences may wonder whether they made the right decisions regarding their loved one's care.
Writing may relieve stress and can sometimes help family caregivers work through difficult emotions after a loved one has passed. Stobaugh found writing Oh Sweet Lorraine to be a very cathartic process. You, too, may discover that writing in a journal, composing a song or penning poetry helps you cope while grieving the death of a loved one.
The important thing to keep in mind is that no two people grieve the same way. There's no "right" way to mourn and everyone grieves their loved ones in their own way and in their own time. Allowing yourself the freedom to experience the full range of emotions surrounding a loved one's death may help you heal.