Michael rowed the boat ashore, Alleluia, Sister helped to trim the sails Alleluia.
Our living room has turned into the dying room. Friends linger after stopping by to bring flowers or drop off food. One tells me, “There’s so much love in this house. it’s hard to leave.”
Jordan’s River is deep and wide, Alleluia, Got a home on the other side, Alleluia.
My son Kevin and I sit together at his younger brother Ken’s bedside. Ken rests peacefully now after an incident of railing at the gods as he realized completely his fate. We know that his life is now a matter of hours or minutes, not days. Kevin faces me with his back to his brother. He tells me, “I don’t have to look back at Ken to see what’s happening there. I can feel it. Ken’s spirit is getting so big, it’s too big for his body. It’s filling this room.” As he says this, I look to the high ceiling and I say, “I feel it too.” It’s as though the molecules of the air in the room are expanding.” I find myself involuntarily sighing and shuttering, taking in several gulps of air in through my mouth in the process. And then- an incredible sense of peace settles over me. My mind doesn’t understand. I remind myself that my son is dying, but that fact does not impact my state of complete well-being. I think of the phrase, “the peace that passes all understanding,”
Jordan’s river is chilly and cold. Alleluia. Chills the body, but not the soul. Alleluia
My friend Rose’s hospital room is now a hospice room. Friends from two different cities who’ve never met meet in that room each evening. We sing songs remembered from girl scout camp or church choir. And since it takes two or three of us to come up with the words to any song, we laugh a lot, and Rose makes fun of us. Later on, one morning, when no one else is around, I take Rose’s hand and begin singing to her, a song from my women’s spirituality group. “I am woman, I grow out of the earth, beautiful, powerful and wise.” On the second verse, the words change for me,” I am woman, I go “back to the earth, beautiful, powerful and wise.” At that moment, after 14 days of trying, she leaves.
Jordan’s river is deep and wide Alleluia. Meet my mother on the other side. Alleluia.
Years later I learn that there are people who do this on a regular basis, gathering to sing at the bedside of a person preparing to cross from this world to the next. The first Threshold Choir began in 1990 in California and such choirs have become a movement worldwide. In the ancient tradition of keening the women singers generate harmonious sound waves that encircle the singers and the object of their supportive gift, creating a sacred container of love and respect. Their songs make kindness audible, creating a bridge to what lies beyond. Founder Kate Munger described it as “walking each other home.”
The pandemic has silenced this music at bedsides as it has silenced group singing of all types, and familiar in-person rituals of grief and mourning. May the reemerging from isolation after the pandemic reignite all forms of communal music especially what the African-American leader W.E.B.DuBois called “sorrow songs.” We are now a society of emerging souls longing for the balm and encouragement of spirituals and the many traditions of folk songs.