A few weeks ago I got a phone call. It was from my cousin. She was calling to let me know that her father was dying. "It will be soon. He is at home. He is comfortable." she said. Within a few days I was driving north to bid my farewell.
I am fortunate to sing with a Threshold Choir in Rhode Island. Threshold Choirs sing at the bedside of those transitioning from life to death. To learn more about Threshold Choirs view the video on the right or visit https://ThresholdChoir.org
"Can I sing to him?" I asked upon arrival. With just he and I in the room I shared my musical reminiscing with him. He wasn't conscious but I trusted he could hear me. After all, science tells us that hearing is the first sense to be developed in utero and the last sense to go at the end of life. I held his hand and sang...softly, quietly. It was an intimate sharing of a common musical heritage, nothing dramatic, nothing "performance-worthy" just he and I and the notes - hanging suspended around us in a profound moment of sacred grace. I watched his breath as he labored - in and out--, in and out, the rhythm uneven between the out and the in leaving me wondering and watching to see if each was to be the last...
Two days later I received the word. "He's gone," she said. "It was peaceful. He just slipped away in the middle of the night. It was what he would have wanted..."
Days later I was on the road again...this time to a funeral, or a celebration of life for his was a life to be celebrated. The church was full for he was a man who had touched many people's lives. "Can you sing for him one last time? Sing for us?" she asked. At the appointed time I took my place and looked out at those grieving faces yet all grateful for having known him. I closed my eyes and summoned forth an old Gaelic hymn sung in the old language and in the old 'sean nós' style, mournful and healing all at once and in that strange way that music and song move us I heard the sobs and the tears as the grief was unlocked bringing much needed emotional release. We were singing him home...and singing each other further along our own journeys. We were unified and satisfied and comforted in our communal musical experience.
As a music educator this is what I want to make possible for my students... that they may own the songs of their culture and heritage; that they may have the confidence to share their voice with others in all kinds of life situations; that they can sing to celebrate a birthday, win the heart of a loved one or to rock a baby to sleep; that they may know how to use music as the soundtrack of their life to unlock those deep feelings and emotions that sometimes need coaxing out of even deeper places; and that they can sing their own loved ones home when the time comes.
This is why we do it. This is why it's important. Come sing with me. We'll sing each other home...