Day 6

How to Lose Everything: Christa Couture's memoir about loss, strength, music, hope — and more loss

Christa Couture lost her leg to cancer when she was a child and her two sons died as babies. In her new memoir she shares her stories of grief, but also shares how she expressed herself through music and writing and how that helped her heal.

'Music over the years saved me,' said the writer and musician

Christa Couture is the author of 'How to Lose Everything.' (Jen Squires)

Cancer. Death, death. Divorce. More cancer.

That's what musician and writer Christa Couture calls her grief bio.

"It is an extraordinary list of experiences," Couture told CBC Radio's Day 6.

Those experiences are also part of the reason she wanted to write her new memoir, How to Lose Everything.

"I feel like in my early years of grief, in particular after my sons died, books were just a certain kind of friend. There was an understanding that I found in some books that I wasn't feeling anywhere else," explained Couture.

"I wanted to kind of put something out there that might help someone else as much as I was helped by other people's work."

Christa Couture is a musician, writer and broadcaster in Toronto. (Jen Squires)

When she was 11, Couture was diagnosed with bone cancer. At 13, her left leg was amputated above the knee.

She was told she might never have children because of all of the chemotherapy she had endured, but eventually she did have two sons. Her first son died when he was a day old due to complications during childbirth. Her second son had complications with his heart and died at 14 months.

In the grief over losing their sons, Couture and her husband drifted apart and divorced. 

Focused on her music career and a new life, Couture moved to Toronto, and that's where she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

It's a lot for anyone to endure, but she got through it.

Painful conversations

"Do you have kids?" is a common and seemingly innocent question, but after the deaths of her sons, it was a question that always made Couture uneasy. She was never sure how to answer. 

"When people [would] ask me if I have children, you know, before my daughter was born, it was a question that I never got used to," she explained.

"Do I tell the truth? Do I say yes? I have two children, but they died? Do I say, oh, no, I don't have kids. And both of those answers go in very different directions."

Couture says she'd feel awful if she said no, that she didn't have kids. 

"Saying no could protect me in that moment. It could mean not revealing my broken heart even though it felt so visible at the time," she said. 

But saying yes could be equally painful for Couture.

"To say yes meant saying yeah. And this is the hard reality in taking a risk. Is that person going to be open to my sorrow? Is that person going to feel really uncomfortable, and this is going to be the end of this conversation," she said.

Every time the question was asked, she would quickly have to decide how to answer, and she coped with moments like those by writing music — and her memoir.

Coping through music

"Music over the years saved me," said Couture. Lyrics to several of her songs are included in the memoir.

She says she wanted to "relate to the different stories and, in part, to show how I was talking about it at the time."

But she also says it helped to be in another place, whether physically or mentally.

"I think there were times that it was also just kind of practical as far as coping. I mean, it gave me something to do. It gave me a place to be. And it kind of took me all over the world, which was very useful when it came to just wanting to be distracted."

"But there was also something really powerful about performing the same songs over and over," explained Couture. "I think by performing songs every night, I got to kind of revisit these experiences I had and get used to them. And it was a way that I had integrated and understood my experiences."

When she had surgery to cure her thyroid cancer, Couture's voice changed temporarily and it took her some time before she felt comfortable singing again. That's when she put pen to paper to write her memoir.

She says she hopes her story will help others cope with grief. 

"I hope that they will either know how to better comfort someone near them if they know someone who is going through loss and grief, and they don't want to say or they don't know how to think about it. I hope that it's an insight into some experiences of loss," she said.

"I don't think it's advice, but I think it's if you find yourself in that place, in that dark place, I think that reading this book could show you that you're not alone."

Written and produced by Laurie Allan.


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