A song for my mother, a year later

Tomorrow will mark a year since I sang a song for my mother, an experience that still gives me goosebumps. Everything about that experience was infused with loving grace. I’m writing another post for tomorrow, but in the meantime I thought I’d share that post from last year.


There I was, palms sweating, all eyes on me. My heart was racing. Around me, new friends (very new)—most of them twenty, thirty, even forty years older than myself—urged me on.

“Will you consider it?” They asked.

Would I consider it?

I knew in my heart the answer was yes, even if my sweaty palms said no.

I was at choir practice, and these new friends were fellow members of the choir that I recently joined, which is part of the church that I recently joined. (You know, working on building my village and all that jazz.)

In the way that only deep, deep pain can motivate us, I recently came to the realization that I can’t do this life-gig solo. I need a village. Comrades. Partners on the path of self-actualization

I needed a faith community .

Seeing as I’m liberal-but-leery-of-organized religion, I naturally decided to check out our local Unitarian Universalist church.  Their mission statement is “Love. Grow. Serve.” Who can’t get behind that? They describe themselves as an “open-hearted multi-generational community” and that is what I found the instant I walked through their doors. love-grow-serve

The people I’ve met in this faith community include a baby-boomer hippy guitarist, a young physics professor, a Jewish grandma, a seventy-year old blue-bird enthusiast, a musical theater professional, and more. (And, they literally greet you with homemade muffins and coffee. In fact, they give new members the yellow mugs, so they can find you and say hello. It just so happens the yellow ones hold the most coffee, which also makes me love them.)

I immediately knew I wanted to join the church choir. Their Director is young and talented. The choir is small and half their members are snowbirds who return north for summer. In addition to needing more warm bodies, I had a hunch they would also benefit from having a few more members who could read music.

So there I was, at the second practice of my new choir at the new church I joined.

There are precisely four sopranos including myself. Judy, who carries a Monet Water Lilies tote and a tin of cough drops, sits to my right and watches out for me. She found an extra binder of music and shared her post-it tabs with me.

I was enjoying the practice. We were rehearsing the old Appalachian hymn “Bright Morning Stars” for Mother’s Day.

Our Director announced she would need a volunteer to do an a capella solo for the first verse, then we would add another part with each subsequent verse.

I absentmindedly scanned my music. I wondered who she had in mind to sing the solo. I was sort of relieved, in fact. Thank goodness I’m new, for surely she didn’t have me in mind, I thought to myself.

And then Judy tugged my arm and pointed to me. My palms started sweating. A lot. 

“Will you? Will you consider it?” she asked?

I looked up and all the others were smiling kindly. Wait, what? They were serious? Several altos nodded and smiled at me. I looked at the choir director who was smiling, waiting for me to reply.

It was then that I heard myself say yes. 

It is hard for me to describe how much this moment stirred me. I have always loved singing. From as long as I can remember I have sung in a choir. In middle and high school I took voice lessons and competed with other awkward pre-teens in various music festivals, singing with girls’ ensembles and honor choirs and on and on.

Recently, the most singing I’d done was in my shower or dancing with my pre-schooler to Yvis’s Yogurt Song.

And here I was, nonchalantly saying yes to SING A SOLO. In church. My voice, alone. What on earth was happening?

I was still wrapping my head around this fact as our Director paused to tell a story about this particular hymn. She explained how she had performed the song with a group of inner-city youth, most of them living on public assistance of some form in a very low-income area. She said how she talked to them about the meaning of the lyrics, how the song is about a parent’s sacrifice for their children.

It as at this point in the story that she said, that one of her high school students began whispering. Being the great choir director that she is, she cleared her throat and asked the young woman, “Excuse me, do you have a question?”

The student looked up and told her, “My parents are dead.”

At this point my eyes welled with tears. It turns out, of course, that the song is actually a metaphor, and it was about the eternal love of a parent toward a child even beyond death. The choir Director said she explained this to the student, how the song wasn’t literal but in fact about how the love of your parents goes beyond death, and perhaps this young woman’s parent’s were watching over her. Loving her still.

Well, at this point I didn’t know how I was going to sing this song about dead mothers. On mother’s day of all days. With my own dead mother up in heaven like that precious child’s. 

None of this mattered. I seemed to be carried by the energy of this group, and I suddenly found myself moments later singing the solo it out into the empty church. I finished and heard the choir members begin to clap.

Judy turned to me and said, “that was beautiful.”

The choir director wiped a tear away.”I don’t know why I’m so emotional today but that really moved me.”

Not only did I get through the song about dead mothers without crying, but I sang the whole thing fairly effortlessly.

And here is the crazy thing: I have always dreaded and hated solos. I have a traumatic memory of me singing at a competition when I was maybe fifteen years old, totally breaking under the pressure of performing in front of others. (I was perfectly fine in the comfort of the pianist’s living room when we had practices.)

Singing out loud, alone, used to be too vulnerable. I was fine blending my voice with others. Exposed and in the spot-light, I would wither and crack. My outsides didn’t match my insides. Or maybe they did, because I felt cracked inside too, I hadn’t yet embodied my voice, and was many many years from that being the case.

And so I circle back to today. This weekI sang effortlessly. I suppose you could say I found my voice. 

Today is Mother’s Day. I will put on my pretty blue dress, my heels and my mother’s jewelry. I will go with my daughter and husband to my new church, where I will sing a solo in front of my new, multi-generational faith family.

And I will sing out about how the love of our mother’s transcends death.

I will sing a song for my mother. 

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Love Endures

Love endures. 

Those were the words that earlier today brought me to tears and figuratively brought me to my knees. 

It might have been more graceful if I had actually been brought to my knees. I could have avoided the very obvious and very awkward moment when I realized I was the only choir member not standing, only to then find myself standing with the wrong hymnal, only to then stumble to find the correct page in the correct book. Singing apparently wasn’t happening for me either, unless it was going to be me squeaking out words, which then generated more tears in a never ending cycle of grace and tears, grace and tears.

All the while as this was happening (in front of a hushed and watching congregation) I was thinking about how funny it was that of all people, I was the one openly crying. (This thought touched me and, you guessed it, made me tear up more.)

Until recently I never really spontaneously cried. I operated on a delay. Longer even than the Olympic delay.  Only after my logical brain could examine and then parse it would I finally feel safe enough to FEEL.

So back to the openly-crying-when-I-was-supposed-to-be-singing…I don’t know what exactly it was about the words but the guided meditation stirred the pot, as it were.

 We were led to remember both a moment recently that was infused with love and a moment that was not. And the take-away was that we should remember how that moment of love felt and we should have it ready to to hold when another crap-tastic moment comes up in our life. (My words, not quite what Reverend Allison said.)


Yeah, I know this song and dance. Where you honor the pain, but ever so gently…you don’t want to squeeze it until your knuckles are white. You don’t want the pain to overcome you, or numb you, or embitter you. (Been there, done that, not pretty.)

And the trickiest dance step of all: meeting that pain with love.

That part can be hard. Like, really really hard. 

So today I was crying about it all.  Thinking about the moments of love made me realize how much I miss my mom right now. Her birthday is next week. And come a month from now, it will be three years she has been gone from earth.

And then I thought about the crummy things too. All the things that have come undone since my mom died.  How there are wounds that remain very much not healed. The kind of pain where simply facing it is hard, let alone meeting it with love, thank you very much. 

Tears tears and more tears. Of love and grace and pain and heartbreak all meshed together.

outline_of_a_heart_by_jasaya-d3ef9wn

image source.


It may sound strange to count this as a victory, but how wonderful that I was able to openly cry among other imperfect humans who tolerate (nay, encourage) my weeping into the wrong hymnal on the wrong page at the wrong time.  

I know none of them were judging me. (If they noticed, that is—we have a bad habit of staring down into our hymnals and not looking up and out at the choir! but we are working on it.)

And get this: as I sit here now, writing it all out and re-feeling the love, I heard something outside my window near the bird feeder I put in recently.

I looked out, and outside on the ground was a mourning dove.

Blessed be. Love endures. 


Do you know this dance? Share if you feel so inclined.