Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sing Me to Sleep

My mother was a singer. And a pianist. And a music conductor. I always think of her as the most joyful and alive when she was directing a chorus. Music was her life. And her life-blood.

We were so privileged to grow up in a home where:
  • Late at night we’d drift off to sleep listening to the muffled notes of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata ringing out from the grand piano upstairs.
  • We’d come home from school to a live chamber music session (piano, cello, and flute) passionately rehearsing in the living room.
  • After Christmas dinner she’d tune all the crystal goblets to a perfect scale and we’d play carols by running our fingers over the rim.
  • We’d move the couches and have an impromptu polka party, just for fun, with her at the piano.
  • We learned to sing Tender Shepherd as a round before we could even talk.
  • We’d sing hymns in 4-part harmony before bed.


So it was only appropriate that when the cancer had finally consumed her entire body and the cheyne-stokes breathing indicated she was not long for this earth, we reached for the hymn books. Now it was our turn to sing her to sleep.

The nurse and the grief counselor told us their hearing is the last thing to go. So even when it doesn’t look like they’re paying attention, when they no longer have the strength to respond, and might even appear to be unconscious, they can still listen.

We each took a moment to say our goodbyes. And then we started to sing. At first it was hesitant, awkward. We fumbled for our parts as we choked back our tears. Gradually, flipping through the hymn book to find our favorites, the most comforting ones, we gained some confidence. Our voices rang out in a rich blend. Sweet Ben climbed right up onto her bed and lay there next to her, crooning softly into her ear with his golden voice.

Then, amazingly, while we were singing “I Need Thee Every Hour,” our voices were somehow amplified, almost as though we were suddenly joined by a growing chorus of angels from the other side. It was beyond beautiful. We were so caught up in the moment, the richness of the music, the power of the performance, we almost didn’t notice...then someone pointed us back to reality, and we watched in awe: On the last phrase of the last verse, right when we sang, “O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee...” she took her last breath.

And I felt the veil part. As though the very divider between heaven and earth slipped open, just a crack, to let her soul pass through. And in that instant, so full-to-the-brim it couldn’t be stopped, some light and truth and love seeped through from the other side. It filled the room, and wrapped around us, bathing us in its warmth.

I remember feeling so beautiful inside, I wanted to hang onto that moment forever and ever. I have never been so sure in all my life of the reality of an after-life; that her soul slipped away to someplace bigger and better than we could possibly imagine. That she was with God.

I never imagined that her moment of death would have such a lasting impact on me. That over all the years of teaching and training and loving and serving and, yes, laughing...what I would remember best was her leaving...and the amazing cushion of peace she left behind.

I love that — just once — when it mattered most, I got to sing her to sleep.
She told me once she wanted to be remembered as a peacemaker.
And now she is.


The image above is the portrait I did for her funeral program. It was from a photo of her directing a Christmas chorus.

28 comments:

LisAway said...

What an amazing story. That is just so beautiful. Such a gift for her family, and I'm sure, whether she picked the timing or not, she could not have wanted to go at a better time. What a wonderful ending to a wonderful life.

Kristina P. said...

What a beautiful gift you gave her, Jana, and a memory you will treasure forever.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

This is a really beautiful post. I loved it. Thank you.

Melanie J said...

I know exactly what you mean. We had a similar experience with my dad. You described this perfectly.

Heather of the EO said...

Oh lady, guess what? This was nearly the same experience as we had as a family with my Grandma and my Grandpa! Just last May we stood around my Grandpa's bed singing hymns as he left us and went on to eternal life. It's so hard to describe that feeling, and yet you've done a beautiful job here.
And with such a beautiful portrait...
Love you.

The Mom said...

Oh, I am crying right now. That was so beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Debbie said...

This is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. What a loving tribute to your mother.

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, my friend. You floor me. What beauty and power. Thank you for writing this.

Heidi Ashworth said...

This is beyond beautiful!

Heidi Ashworth said...

Please please please sub this to the annex--how perfect for Mother's day weekend!

WeaselMomma said...

That was beautiful. I hope you have a wonderful Mother's Day, knowing that your Mother is still watching over you.

Kazzy said...

*sigh* You are something else.

Sparkette said...

Half-Past Kissin Time sent me over. I am moved with chills at the power of God in that room that day. Amazing. Thank you for sharing that.

That Girl in Brazil said...

... can't think ...

Thank you.

zelzee said...

What a beautiful memory you will always hold dear of your mother's passing........

Thank you for sharing this with us.

Eowyn said...

Wow.

I love music.

There's just nothing adequate to say right now, as I sit here with tears in my eyes.

Thank you for your strength, and that gift to her which has now become a gift to me.

Kimberly said...

I'm swallowing tears now - I love how you find the beauty in everything. And having had the blessing of a mother like that, I see in part where you received that gift from. Beautiful post, luv.

Mrs4444 said...

Charrette, we have to meet. This reminded me so much of when my dad died (except for the singing part). I would love to tell you my story. I have started to write it, but it's still so fresh (2005), and it's more of a book than a post. Your story moved me so much, and on the way to school, when I had only read half of it, I felt that love you spoke of, just having read part of it. You have been given so many, many gifts. Thanks for sharing them.

patty said...

Thanks for shared her story, recalled the departure of my grandparents ..

patty said...

gracias por pasar por mi blog......

Karen MEG said...

That was such a lovely tribute to your mother. What a loving way for her to pass.

My father passed not long ago, and this reminded me of the special prayer we had around him as we said our final goodbyes.

Happy mother's day to you.

val of the south said...

That was just beautiful - thank you for sharing that.

I hope you're having a wonderful mother's day!

Erin said...

I'm crying now. That was beautiful. I love the thought of angels on the other side joining in with the choir on this side. How tender.

Melinda said...

You wrote this is beautifully, so touching. Totally crying right now, thanks for sharing!

Pam at beyondjustmom said...

What an amazing story. I believe filling a home with music is a beautiful gift, and I can't imagine a more satisfying way to pass on to the afterlife than surrounded by music from loved ones. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

Jessica said...

Wow, this is so beautiful. I wish I were musical, and knew how to create that kind of beauty in my home . . . what a legacy your mom left. It's a testament to the power of art and the way that it can bind people together. . . . and your experience of life and the afterlife . . . wow, so amazing and beautiful.

Gunfighter said...

How wonderful that now that your mother is resting in the arms of Christ that she had such beautiful and loving music to send her on her way.

Blessings,

Bill

Mrs4444 said...

Just recorded this one and the one you wrote for Fathers Day. If you end up sending it to me in your own voice, that would be wonderful, too-No pressure. I just didn't want you to feel bad that I recorded it if you wanted to yourself; it didn't take me long at all, and I would happily replace it.