Friday, January 10, 2014

Music & Melancholy

I re-joined my home church choir yesterday, back in my old seat among the altos.  I was ten minutes late to practice, which started at seven, so I did my scales and warm-up exercises on the way, trilling weirdly from behind the wheel (I am sure to the consternation of any other driver who glanced in my direction).  The church is hosting the local observance of the Martin Luther King memorial service on January 20, and I think it will be the first time that there has actually been a historically white (though not exclusively, even in the "bad old days") church hosting what has largely been an African-American celebration.  Our choir will be joined by some four others from other area churches--I wonder if they will be wearing robes, as we have let ours gather dust for years now.  Anyway, it was great to be reabsorbed musically, as daunting as it was to really sight-read after mostly forgetting how over a decade. 

My friend Nathan Brand's father died suddenly of a heart attack earlier this week, and my friend Susanna and I decided to go to the visitation.  She came by today to pick me up at 6:30 (by that point, I'd become wholly absorbed in hanging pictures with the help of Mums' "all-purpose teenager"), and when I opened the door to her knock I burst out, "Crap! I forgot!" and quickly rushed to put on suitable clothes and proper makeup.  The funeral home was the same we used for Daddy's arrangements, and the parking lot was packed when we arrived at seven.  In addition to the viewing for Nathan Brand's father, there was another mourning family receiving condolences.  I was walking past the first reception area when I recognized an elderly man, his face covered in sadness, and he looked at me with surprised recognition: it was my long-time psychiatrist, and he blurted that his 51-year-old daughter had died suddenly of COPD.  I hugged him, and he told me "we covet your prayers."  He's such a dear old man.  He buried his wife of 50+ years a while back, and now he is burying his daughter. 

I was so glad that Susanna had fetched me.  Not only did I end up signing the Brand family guest book, I signed the other one too.  It was peculiar knowing members of two next-door bereaved families in a single evening, but I was glad I was able to be there both for Nathan and for my doctor, as accidental as the latter was on my part.  Nathan's mom is from South Korea, and though his dad was in the US Army when they married, they met in Oklahoma, of all places, not Inchon or Seoul.  They'd been married forty years, just like my parents, and Nathan's father's body was laid out in a coffin exactly like the one we chose for Daddy, in exactly the same spot in the same room where we all gathered 3.5 years ago.  His mom is devastated, and spent most of the hour we stayed to talk with Nathan and his wife curled over her husband's body, weeping.  I had never met either of Nathan's parents before, but if his father was anything like him, he was a sweet and godly guy. 

People don't understand how jarring the sudden death of a loved one is until it happens to them.  You can commiserate, you can imagine hypothetically, but until you know that horrible tearing sensation firsthand, you don't know how fundamentally it upsets your balance, leaves you simultaneously numb and miserable.  Thank God, if you are a believer, there is real hope and comfort, and you do really experience this "peace that passes understanding" as you work through the days and weeks waiting for your reeling world to rock down to equilibrium.  But anybody who thinks death is "natural" or reactions to it can be methodically moved through is deluding themselves.  I told Nathan's wife that if I can help address envelopes or something, to let me know--sometimes, the best thing you can do for people in grief is to help them get through the mundane responsibilities of ritual, since I know from personal experience how dumbstruck the brain can be by all the unexpected reality of mortality.

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