Archive for Worship


Love’s Labour’s Last

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Today I had to fulfill the duty that falls to all musicians from time to time. I played the memorial service of a woman I considered my spiritual mother. Both repelled by the finality of my job, and compelled by the desire to give her my very best music one last time, I prepared myself this morning.

The alarm went off at 7 a.m. I reluctantly rolled out of bed and pulled myself toward my first task: transposing a couple of hymns I did not care to tackle on the clarinet in the key of A flat. I tried them out, although I really wasn’t sure I was even going to look at the music. I taped my “security blanket” to my music stand, as this was going to be an outdoor service.

As each item was readied to go, it was placed next to my purse. But my mind was so foggy. When was the last time it was so hard to gather my thoughts, and gather my things? I couldn’t remember.

Next stop was some iced coffee as it has been sweltering, humid heat in New England the last few days. There are some pills I am supposed to take in the morning. Later in the day I found I had never actually taken them.

Then I ironed my best dress, blue flowers on a white background because we were going to celebrate Faye’s life, not mourn her death. Certainly Faye was celebrating in heaven, but I was missing her terribly. In my clouded thoughts I was turning over what I might share about her at the service. But I can’t share the most important things: how much she loved me, what a great confidante she was, the things she shared with me about her life, what a stalwart supporter she was in the dark times of my life, how much fun we had over the years, but what a rock she was for me. Some things just can’t be expressed. It’s too complicated and too private.

Then we leave, and as my daughter and I start the drive, my mind sets Faye aside and goes into a business mode. People often ask if I will break down when I’m playing. The answer has always been no. I can’t. In those moments I cannot be the bereaved daughter, the saddened cousin, the grieving friend. I am a musician and I have a job to do. Ironically, at the time when I want to put the most love into my playing, I am at my most businesslike.

And this day was an exceptionally tall order on this day. Faye had chosen two songs that were lively expressions of the victory we have in Christ: When the Roll is Called Up Yonder and When We All Get to Heaven. I didn’t feel like playing these at all, even though I knew she was experiencing these wonderful things. There had been a couple of sad attempts at home. Finally, under pressure of live performance, I came up with peppy renditions.

When it was all over and folks were leaving, I played my own selection softly, What a Day That Will Be. It’s a slower Gospel feel, and for me it expressed both what she is experiencing and what I am waiting for here.

I would love to hear about your experiences playing or singing for a loved one’s memorial service. Was it difficult, or did it make your goodbyes easier? No matter what, the last personal song definitely makes a difference.


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