Why, Rocket Man?

In 1983, we lost my cousin Donna to cancer. She fought it for two years, valiantly, until she lost her battle while at Sloan Kettering in the city. They did all they could for her and my family still has a deep appreciation for all their efforts.

Donna and I were the same age and she was the apple of everyone’s eye. We all knew she was the favorite in the family, but for some reason we were ok with it, even before she became ill. In my eyes she was perfect, though I’m sure she was only human, like the rest of us.

Mom and Donna

To say it was a major blow to our family when she passed would be the understatement of the century. I had been away at college during most of her battle, and had come home only months before the end. My sorrow has always been tinged with guilt for not being there for her.

Then there’s Elton John. He doesn’t know about this connection, of course, and I’ve been trying for the last 18 years to figure this out. But here’s what happened. A few days after Donna’s funeral, as I was driving down the road, Elton John’s song “Rocket Man” came on the radio.

I burst into tears, and almost drove right off the road.

Once I pulled over, I sobbed uncontrollably. The connection to my cousin was clear as a bell. I knew that I was crying for Donna, but I had no idea why. It was a strange event, but I chalked it up to a simple reaction to the loss of someone so important and figured, if it wasn’t this song it would have been another, or some other impetus. Basically, I told myself it was probably cathartic and that it was a one time episode, not worthy of analysis.

I was wrong, however. The next time I heard the song the same exact thing happened. It got to the point where I would have to quickly change the radio station if I heard the first few notes come across the airwaves. If I was indoors and heard Elton begin his pre-flight check, I would have to either shut him off or resign myself to ruining my makeup. After about a year of this occurring I realized it was becoming a problem. Finally, in 1987, four years after Donna’s passing, the reaction began to ebb and by the end of that year I could again listen to the song on the radio without breaking down. Now I hear it and a feeling of fondness with a bit of sadness comes over me. It’s probably the workings of time as much as my subconscious coming to terms with whatever caused the behavior in the first place.

My logical mind led me to try to investigate the origin of my reaction. It did consume me for a period of time, so wholly that I considered writing a book about it. As time went by, I decided it might only be worthy of a magazine article. In the end, it’s just a blog post, but it is still a burning question that I will probably never have an answer to. With this much time having gone by, I’m not sure the answer would matter anymore anyway.

Rocket Man is still one of my favorite Elton John songs. I thank Sir Elton for it. It is very possible that his song is what helped me get over the loss of my cousin and overcome the family trait of holding in our sorrow an anger.

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One thought on “Why, Rocket Man?

  1. My ex-wife had a best friend named Shannon (after whom our younger daughter is named). Shannon and her mother were in a railroad crossing accident in 1974, the year Shannon and Crystal were in second grade. Crystal’s friend died; the mother survived. To this day, the ex cannot hear Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun” without tearing up. Apparently, Crystal and her friend liked the song and used to sing it, often. I discovered that by accident one day a long time ago when it started playing on an oldies station to which we were listening.

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