In memory, everything seems to happen to music.
-Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
The first funeral I ever remember attending was for a baby.
Friends of my parents suffered several pregnancy losses. I do not remember the details, or maybe I was never told, but I remember the excitement when Lori finally had a baby that was going to carry to term. I remember attending the baby shower. For some reason, I had a connection to Lori but now I cannot pull from the recesses of my mind why we were close. I was 10 years old. I remember her hugging me, her belly swelled as she neared the end of her pregnancy.
Baby Erica was born. Seven days later, she was dead.
I was asked to light a candle at the funeral – to walk to the alter in front of a church full of people at 10 years old and honor their baby girl. The song that played was Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”
Lori’s sister spoke at the funeral. How Erica had been born with a heart defect. How they had been hopeful that surgery could maybe correct the issue, but then Erica took a turn and died. There was an urn of Erica’s ashes at the front of the church. My mom explained to me that Lori and her husband had Erica cremated – that it was too painful to keep looking at their baby girl. There was a photo of the family of three, from that brief time when they took breaths together.
Another funeral also is seared into memory, probably more than a decade later. The adult son of a co-worker was killed in a car accident. I was in college at the time, and had never met the son, but he was close to me in age. My co-worker was dear to me – I had been working at the bank with her for years. As a young adult, I could only barely scratch the surface of understanding her grief. I went to the wake with my dad, and I remember the sobs of my father as he approached the grieving parents. I could project what he was thinking: imagining how he would feel if it were his child in the coffin.
I offered to sing at the funeral. It was the only thing I could offer, one less thing for the family to plan in the details if the service to honor their son. After communion, the pianist began to play one of my favorite songs, unplanned. I knew the words by heart, and sang them with tears streaming down my face:
Do not met your hearts be troubled
Have faith in God and faith in Me
I will go forth to prepare a place for you
Then I’ll come back to take you with Me
That where I am, you may also be.
Looking now at these two funerals, I am struck by their commonality: parents who have lost children. I have been to many funerals, from grandparents, to the tragic death of a classmate by a drunk driver. But it is the grieving parents that have stayed with me. At 10 and 20 years old, I could form the deepest empathy for a parent who had lost a child.
Now, at 32 years old, I have joined their ranks. I have been pulled against my will into the most unfortunate of clubs. If our fates are predetermined, then perhaps in these previous experiences I was getting a glimpse into what the future would hold for me. If outcomes are random, then my heart was opened to hold these grieving parents for awhile, so that some day other grieving parents could return the gesture.
Music frames these memories. I used the same song in Nelle’s obituary… “I will go forth to prepare a place for you / Then I’ll come back to take you with Me.” Sometimes words alone are not enough. Music can lend a connection where the pieces are disjointed.
For a moment we’re not broken, just bent
And we can learn to love again.