Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I believe when I graduated from high school, you could major in art or music therapy.  I also think at the time, the idea that music or art could have true therapeutic value was still poo-poo'd by "the experts".   Great strides have since been made in this field since I was a senior in high school and trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Had I known that such a field existed (and I could have found a reputable school that had that major), I might be in a very different place than I am now.  Even so, there are aspects of my current situation that allow me a glimpses into this field.

In the last couple of months, I've had two friends suffer terrible losses.  A conversation with one of those friends recently centered around grief and how you work through it.  At the time, I didn't have a good answer for her but it got me thinking about my own experience with grief and how I managed to work through it in the end.

In high school, I had a friend who was very much like an older brother to me.  He kept me on track and certainly wasn't afraid to hassle me when he felt I needed it -- and there were several instances when I needed it!  When I was sixteen, he met a tragic end one night when a drunk driver slammed into his truck. Being a fighter, he hung on for several months, but ultimately died around Christmas. Being sixteen, I dealt with it the best I could.  I had someone to talk to who helped some, but there were many months of me "going through the motions".  I buried myself in my schoolwork and music and eventually I surfaced.  

Almost 20 years later, when I was pregnant with Peanut, I was booked for a solo gig singing Eleanor Daley's Requiem.  Instead of the standard Requiem Mass that most Requiem's use for text, Daley sets poetry about death and dying to music.  The text is powerful stuff.  How she sets the solo is truly amazing -- the line is very exposed  with very little support underneath it.  It is raw, but beautiful and haunting at the same time.  The most often heard movement, "In Remembrance", offers hope and some closure to the pain brought forth by the solo.  

From the solo:

Each night I listened for your call,
when your call stopped
I held my breath, suspended.

I'd grow accustomed to a dialogue with
then wait for the sounds of night

you, dying,
and I but witness to the end

The stillness is a room I've moved into,
and you are not here,
you are gone

the dark heart of a night without song

-From The Sound of the Birds
By Carolyn Smart

And from a choral movement:

"In Remembrance"
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glint on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle morning rain.
And when you wake in the morning's hush,
I am the sweet uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die.


Perhaps it was the pregnancy hormones talking, but this particular gig brought me right back to that December when I received the phone call.  Fortunately, I had a a couple of months to work through these feelings I had thought long buried before I had to do the actual performance.  In the end, I felt like I had finally made peace with his death and now I can sit with it, but not dwell.  (And the performance itself went well too).

One aspect of my job is service work for funerals.  Sometimes, the music is "set dressing" -- it's there because it's supposed to be.  Other times, though, I have been asked to sing deeply personal songs for the family -- everything from Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" to "golden moldy" hymns to Schubert's "Ave Maria".  Requests could be family favorites,  songs that give comfort, or songs that somehow express the grief of those left behind.  It's a service that I enjoy doing.  As a performer and music teacher, I am well aware of how music can affect people.  It can transport people to another time or place.  It can hurt as well as heal.   If I can give a family even a small amount of comfort or closure during a difficult time, I am happy to do it.

To answer my friend's question:  I still don't have a "magic bullet" answer because grief is different for everyone.  I can only encourage you to continue living your life even if it is going through the motions on some days.  I also encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open along the way.  Comfort and closure may come to you from an unexpected source if you keep your heart open to it.

1 comment:

  1. I have the Chruch bulletin from when we sang selections from Eleanor Daley's Requiem for Memorial Day stuck to the top of my will. Hopefully if something happens to me someone will get the hint I left and include "In Remembrance" in my memorial. Maybe it is time to leave more specific instructions.

    Thanks for the pensive moment of the day.