Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Funerals and music

Music has always been a part of my life. I remember as a small child Brother Carver (yes that is what everyone called him) led the children in songs on Wednesday nights. In elementary school, I learned to play the violin. In junior high, I added the viola and the oboe. In elementary school, I had one year in choir. They did parts by age, so I was supposed to be an alto, but I did not really figure out how to sing alto until middle school and I played the viola which always had harmony. I learned to sing alto in church. I would start with the soprano part and then when the notes converged I would move over to the harmony.

In high school, I was one of several who sang at weddings. Weddings are cheerful, happy occasions. A wedding is a beginning, filled with the promise of good things to come.

I first started singing at funerals in my twenties. I'm not a solo singer, I sing as part of an acapella group. Some funerals stand out in my mind more than others. When my grandmother was ill, I sang at a funeral of an older lady. When they closed the casket, the tears started to flow because I knew that my grandmother might not live much longer. Somehow I managed to sing in spite of the tears that day.

There is something about music at a funeral that touches the heart. My Grandmother Marshall was one of the first close deaths for me. One of the songs was Beyond the Sunset. The next time it was sung at church, I ended up leaving the auditorium in tears. It took a few years for that reaction to wear off.

As each person is unique, so each funeral is unique. Some funerals are very small, private affairs with just immediate family. Sometimes they are small because the person has outlived most of their friends and family. Other funerals are large with filled auditoriums - people who had a wide sphere of influence both at church, in their workplace, and community.

Funerals are really for the living - a formal way of saying good-bye. I appreciate the stories that are told, many times things I would not have known about the person.

During the past year, too many of the funerals I've attended have been close to me - my father-in-law, one of my closest friends, the husband of a close friend, and yesterday a special woman who had been in my Ladies' Bible class.

When we sing at funerals, we have to maintain our composure. Dan, who leads our chorus, often reminds us that we are singing for the family . . . we can grieve later. For it is a reality, if one of us loses it, others will follow. There have been a few funerals where I did not sing, because I knew I could not - it was too close - I needed the comfort of the music.

As I waited at the cemetery yesterday, part of me is weary of funerals. I'm tired of loosing friends and family. I grieve over the loss and incapacity that is a part of the aging process. But funerals also have a message of hope. Aging and death are all part of life. Everything that lives will eventually die. And while death ends a chapter in our lives, death is not the end. I believe that death is a journey, an entry into a new life. We leave this life with tired, broken bodies and enter a new life where everything fresh, healthy, and radiant. For those who have died, death is a victory, a new beginning. For those of us left behind, we know that the spirit lives on.

Death is a mystery, a journey into the unknown. Our bodies are programmed to live, to fight death with all our might and strength. When friends move away, we can still call them or go visit them. They can tell us about their new life. When people die, they can't share with us their experience to make it easier for us. It is our faith that sustains us, our faith in God and an eternal human spirit given to us by God.

The beauty of the songs at funerals is that they remind us that death is not the end. Funeral songs are often upbeat happy songs about heaven and the new life to come. They bring comfort to those who are grieving.

Yes, I'll keep singing.


Chris said...

Mary Ann, two things I remember most about you are your beautiful voice and your calm wisdom. Thank you for the reminder! I pray that you will find peace during this day and that your thoughts will be on the blessed reunion we will all have one day.

God bless you!

Christina Jay

Mary Ann Melton said...

Thanks so much for the kind words, Christina. Henry's mom is also in those declining years.
Yesterday's funeral was Jo Ann Davis. Sad to see this generation leaving us.

Chris said...

I am so sorry to hear that. I will pass that information along to Roger and Kitty. They have always admired the Davis family.

It is sad to think that we haven't taken full advantage of the wisdom these precious people have to share.


Chris said...

Oh, and say hello to everyone for us. We miss singing with the chorus on Wednesday nights. :-)

Mary Ann Melton said...

I will pass along your greetings - I'm going to chorus tonight. We miss you as well!

Mary Ann