Sunday, March 15, 2020

SOL20 Slice #15: Gifts of song

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

We found out the day before, the memorial service inside the church was cancelled. The repast to follow, also inside, was cancelled. There would be only a brief service in the cemetery, at the gravesite. The widower, although only in his 60s, has a serious chronic medical condition, making him vulnerable to coronavirus; it simply wasn't wise to go on with the traditional service. At some unknown later date, we will all be back to normal, and we will celebrate her again.

There we all were, maybe 50 of us?, gathered underneath a popup canopy at the top of a hill in the cemetery, on a very chilly afternoon. The service was perfunctory. The chaplain's voice was monotone, dull, artificial; he was going through the motions, following a scripted ritual; it was clear - he didn't know her. Everyone was pretty quiet, lost in their own thoughts. As a result of the thin fabric of my dressy clothing, the shade of the canopy, and the all-consuming sadness that permeated the air, I was shivering...I simply could not get warm. I worried about my husband, seated right at my side; he's only a very few days into recovery from surgery. We were determined to be here, we needed to support our dear friend; our immediate complaints were minor compared to the pain she had dealt with all her life, living with sickle cell anemia. She lived 68 years...that is a beautiful thing. No, not long enough, yet she never imagined a long life. There is that. 

I remember her exclaiming, 
"I never thought I'd see 40! Praise God!" 
"I never thought I'd see 50! Praise God!" 
"I never thought I'd see 60! Praise God!"

The chaplain concluded his prayers and invited people to say a few words about her. There was silence all around. No one moved for a few moments. Then, the 30-something year old son of another good friend stood up in front of us, hands over his eyes, trying to shield tears, and he choked out how she had always been so kind to him. He was so visibly sad, a woman moved from her seat and handed him a tissue. Someone called out, patiently, comfortingly, "take your time, it's okay."  He continued, sharing that he had known her all his life; she was friends with his parents since before he was born...he would see her at his parents' parties, and she was always patient and loving, always asking after him, interested in him. With regained composure, he said, "I want to offer a song." Then, he let out the most beautiful a capella rendition of Deep River, his deep baritone voice bursting out of his fragile being. What a gift, that song! 

I think this is what is meant by a moment of grace.
So beautiful. 

And grace wasn't over.

One woman let out the most heartfelt sob, at the conclusion of his song. Others, clapped. I heard an "Oh, my!" 

Followed by a moment of silence, as if people were processing the miracle that had just occurred.

Then, a Ghanian woman - the older sister of our deceased friend - began to sing, in her native language. I have no idea what was being sung, but it began quietly, like a whisper, and then rose in volume and beauty, and other women joined in with her, harmonizing. This radiant song filled the air for many minutes, another extraordinary gift of song, from the heart.

Through song, the service shifted from something ordinary and formulaic, to a very personal remembrance of this loving woman, this woman we loved.

What a blessing to have been present for this.
What a blessing to have known my friend.


  1. I am sorry for the loss of your dear friend. Heartfelt song takes something perfunctory and raises it giving it special meaning.

  2. I felt like I was near you reading this post. Grief can be so hard and yet so beautiful when surrounded by loving grace. Thanks for sharing.

  3. The paradox of grief expressed so eloquently and with such tenderness lives in this post. There is no right time to die, is there, but it most be doubly painful for the spouse remaining during this time of isolation. I’m glad you were there for your friend, that you honored her memory w/ these words. Life is temporal, but we can live and remember with grace and beauty.