A few days back this friend had been asked to play piano at the funeral of a stillborn infant from her church. Several of the people involved in the funeral, including one who was to set up the sound and another in charge of another aspect of preparations, were present at rehearsal but told M. they wouldn’t be at the funeral itself; it would be too painful. M. admitted that a year ago, she might have been among those who remained outside. But this past year has brought some suffering into her life, and as a result, insight that has led her to be more courageous about facing difficult moments like this. When she first told me about having been invited to be a pianist for this event, I told her how fortunate she was. I’ve sung at a handful of funerals myself, and I can honestly say it is a great honor to be to be part of such a sendoff.
I certainly don’t mean to make light of death by saying this. Death is heartwrenching for those of us who are left behind, which is exactly why it’s such an honor to be part of a celebration of the life that was and which, in the Christian tradition anyway, is believed to continue onward. A funeral has the capacity to bring about an infusion of hope when earthly life is gone like few other things.
I’ll never forget singing at my friend’s funeral several years ago. Even though still neck-deep in the midst of grieving myself, I was able to keep my tears at bay during the portions of the ceremony at which I was called on to sing. I did this by telling myself this was my gift to my friend and her family. What strength I felt when viewing it this way. Likewise, when my aunt’s cancer took an unexpected and sudden turn for the worst, she asked if I would sing at her funeral. I hesitated initially, only because I realized her request meant she was facing her own end and that was hard to hear. But when I saw in her eyes how much it meant to her to have me say yes, there were no more pauses. Through that, I was able to offer that gift to my entire family, including my father, who wept noticably as I sang in honor of his older sister. His tears were healing tears, and I’m glad my music had helped trigger a response of the heart. If we don’t feel, we are numb, and in a state of numbness it is impossible to move through our pain and get to the other side.
So when M. expressed her joy in being part of what some would see only as a somber, heartwrenching event, I knew exactly what she was talking about and felt grateful she’d been able to bless the family with her music and be blessed in return.
My daughters just started piano lessons for the school year. It’s the first year for my 8-year-old, and year three for my almost 11-year-old. The notes they plunk out are not always refined. (Having a piano in dire need of a good tuning doesn’t help their cause!) Listening to them sometimes brings me back to my own days of frustration in front of the piano. But who knows what might happen someday because of these early efforts? Someday, they might be called on to use the talent they are cultivating, one note, one lesson at a time, to offer someone an amazing gift — the gift of music. We offer our kids these opportunities oftentimes through great sacrifice, and it’s not because we enjoy the frequent admonishments of, “Practice your piano,” that seem to go hand in hand with music lessons, nor do we cherish the whining that sometimes follows. We nudge our children onto these paths of possibility because someday they might help a grieving mother, or play for a musical, or use their talent as a wonderful stress-reliever. And through my own experiences of singing or playing an instrument, I can say with triple forte that it’s all worth it!