Why I Love Singing at Funerals
I love singing at funerals.
And I don't care if anyone thinks it's weird.
I love singing at funerals.
It's probably the most human and the most humane thing anyone can do, to sing to those who are grieving.
Funerals are for the living.
In a high school a student two years younger than my class died in a tragic accident; it was a horrible event and shocked our small town.The high school choir sang and I was so mad because I didn't want to go--I knew I'd cry through the whole service and I thought that would be so embarrassing. My dad advised me, "Funerals are for the living. They're for the families and for the friends to say good-bye." Although it was difficult, we all made it through the funeral and we were able to transition from the initial shock into some kind of acceptance.
Since funerals are for the living, now when I show up to sing at a funeral, it ultimately leads to the question "How did these folks know the deceased?" Sometimes I get to chat with the visitors, sometimes I sit on the side and am just another human dressed in black. Sometimes the family members all want to introduce themselves and talk about the details of the service and what their parent or sibling or friend would have wanted.
It is a time for remembrance, for honor, for forgiveness, and for the formalized ritual of saying good-bye (for now). Human beings need to have the experience of the funeral so that the brain understands that someone has now left this life. This is so important that we mark the time with music, with specific songs and hymns. We sing them together, I sing them to the families, whichever is fine. I sing for the benefit of the living in order to honor and remember the deceased.
A funeral is a humanizing experience.
There's nothing like a funeral to remind you that life is precious. A funeral reminds you to go live life and to do the best you can, because eventually this is going to be over and what do you really want people to say about you when you're gone?
At a funeral, people are there to be reminded that the relationship in which they once lived with a particular person is now over.The only way we live is in relationship to others, so when this changes, we are reminded that some day it will change for us, too.
Meaning is everything.
Two times in May I was asked to sing at funerals and at both funerals I was asked to sing "On Eagle's Wings." This hymn makes at least one person sob for the entire duration of the hymn, which on the one hand is beneficial, because this person obviously is moved by the text and they need to cry, but on the other hand is really difficult to see because when you're singing up front you can't run to that lady in the 5th row and offer her a kleenex.
Because the words "make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of His hand" will get someone every. single. time. Beethoven said that to play without passion is inexcusable and he was right. To turn the phrase, to sing without meaning is inexcusable. You can't be an aren't-my-vowels-pretty-and-I-am-doing-just-what-my-teacher-told-me-to-do type of singer at a funeral. You have to sing the meat of the text and you must express the text because that is what the attendees need and want to hear. There are remembrances from a son who lost his mother way too soon to breast cancer, grandchildren of a 90-something-year-old man who just passed away who are rocking their babies in the pews, tears from their eyes spilling out on the baby's blanket. Sometimes there is tension in the air as there are estranged family members who haven't spoken for years thrown together because someone in their family died and they are forced to be in the same place together. And all they want to hear is that yes, everything is going to be all right. It might not feel like it now, but eventually it will be all right.
It's an honor each and every time.
To be asked to sing at a funeral is for a family to ask for an unknown person to extend them comfort. In a way, it is helping them grieve. Sometimes it is helping them celebrate--a sacred celebration. But most often it is to help them grieve. Like in this story:
An elderly man's wife passed away and one day the man's neighbor, a little boy, noticed he was crying. The little boy went and sat with the elderly man, saying nothing. The little boy's mom watched him out the window. When the little boy returned home his mom asked him what he had said to their neighbor. "Nothing," the little boy said. "I just helped him cry." ~Unknown