I never sang for funerals. I avoided them. I didn't know how to be in the space of grief for myself, much less anyone else. What would I say? What did I have to offer? Singing notes on the pitch seemed trite offering for such an intense time. And this is how I lived when it came to funerals. They weren't on my radar - deliberately.
"I have lung cancer," said Dad on the phone. I immediately thought he'd get over this little glitch and tuned out the sad and scared tone of my usually confident Dad. And just like rain eventually falls, my Dad took all of us close to him on the most cathartic journey of my life for two years. All I thought I knew I wanted - changed. Sitting in his hospital room, I questioned all my decisions. Where did I WANT to work? For what was I settling? What kind of MOTHER wanted to emerge? Why was I hiding all the time? Why was I always so worried about what others thought?
Six weeks after dad passed, to the day, I took a walk outside and couldn't feel my left leg. Then I couldn't sense one hand touching the other. Doctors suggested a battery of tests, Xanax, blood pressure medicine, and scary words. Something felt wrong about their guesses, and finally, I landed on a naturopath who told me, "Your Dad died. The solution is a spiritual issue, and you are exhausted."
She was right. I knew in my heart, she was right. I could not go back into my life as if this had not happened. I knew I had to answer and take action on the questions that came to me in that hospital room.
And I did. I changed jobs. Three months later, I was called to do a pro bono service for a man who died of lung cancer. I knew providence granted me the opportunity to grieve through the most healing for me, and help this family at the same time.
I set up the music like this man was the governor. (Little did I know a year later I'd be playing a funeral where the governor was in attendance.) I played the organ and sang, then piano and sang, crying in between it all. I understood and had some idea of what they must be feeling. How hard it is. How sometimes you can't feel your own heart and drop things like tomato sauce all over the kitchen floor. How it's hard to drive. How the cop followed me home because I couldn't breath to pick up my son from daycare. The questioning. The recalibrating of identity. That space now felt like home. Not in a scary way anymore, but like I could be that soft blanket in a house that has seen death.
Suddenly a funeral director came to the choir loft and asked me, "Do you do this?"
I said, "I do now."
That was it. In that one instant, everything changed. I had a meaning for the music I never had before. Suddenly all the different churches and religions I had played for, prayed in, and loved came together to serve families from different faiths. Everything I went through with my father had meaning. It had a purpose. I understood.
My calling shone brightly out of a seemingly dark time. And since then, I have never felt more connected to WHY I sing and play. There is a sacred space to the funeral service. It is holy to me.
A funeral is a period to the end of a sentence, of a story that keeps on going.
Wherever you are in your story, know you are loved.
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