We were sitting in the hospital room when, in a moment of
unbelievable lunacy unexplainable determination, I promised my dad that I’d sing at mom’s funeral.
My first reaction when he opened with “I couldn’t ask you to sing something” was oh no, absolutely not, I’ll never make it through the song. But only moments later I found myself looking at my dad and saying yes, I can do this for mom…I can do this for you.
It seemed like the last gift I could give her, and a gift I could give dad as he said goodbye to the woman he loves.
My dad apparently had complete confidence in my singing ability since he started off by suggesting I might sing the “Ave Maria“. I had to gently tell him no, there was absolutely no way I could pull that one off. It’s a gorgeous song, but my alto voice would never be able to carry it.
By then my brain had started firing the panic neurons, and I figured if I was going to try to do this I’d better choose a familiar song I liked. After looking at the hymns dad had named I told him I could sing “On Eagle’s Wings”. I’ve always loved that song (you can read the lyrics here), and it was a favorite of mom’s as well.
This all seemed like a good plan. I loved the song and had sung it in church for years, so leading it should have been a no brainer. All I’d have to do was handle the panicky feelings from standing up front and, you know, grief. I just kept shoving that part aside, though – surely I could shut that part of my brain off for the two minutes it took to sing. Done.
Once we were actually planning a service it was time to get serious. I’d been singing in the shower, trying to desensitize myself to the song’s lyrics (because really, when I actually thought about the words I was singing, they already made me cry), but I needed to start rehearsing with the music. That’s when I realized my critical error in judgement.
“On Eagle’s Wings”, though a touchingly beautiful song, is written in this wonky key that defies all logic. You have two choices: sing it in operatic soprano voice (which was SO not happening) or drop into the tenor range. And while my singing voice is comfortably low, some of this song’s notes dipped below even that. (You can check out that startling soprano version here.)
Well, crap. Suddenly my no brainer song had become a challenge. One I’d be attempting during my mom’s funeral. In front of everyone. While possibly crying.
Panic neurons pinged wildly.
I found a tenor version on YouTube (seeing as that was the only reasonable possibility) and practiced. It was rough. I’d get through the song one time, but the next I’d dissolve into tears on the second verse. Or I’d find myself unable to start at all. Things were looking rocky.
The morning of the funeral arrived, and I went into the sanctuary early to rehearse the song with the accompanist. She (naturally) played for the congregation and was used to them beginning in the higher key, so I was struggling to find my note. We worked on it for a few minutes, but…let’s just say things didn’t look good.
I could feel my face heating up. My hands started shaking and my chest tightened as I realized it was entirely possible that this wouldn’t work. I was close to full-on panic mode when I noticed T-man approaching the lectern. He asked what I was doing, and I explained I was trying to practice the song I needed to sing but that it wasn’t going well.
That man-child of mine looked me straight in the eye and simply said, You can do this, mom. Then he went to talk with BrightSide’s mom in the back of the church.
It was like liquid courage. I felt my son’s faith fill me up, and when I turned to nod to the accompanist we did a perfect run-through. It was nothing short of a miracle.
You might wonder how it went during the actual service…I wonder that myself. I clearly remember thinking don’t trip as I walked to the front of the church, and as I turned to face everyone I searched for my kids to see if Bear was holding it together. Then I gripped the lectern, closed my eyes, and winged a prayer. This isn’t me, this is all You. Please sing through me.
I vaguely remember singing the hymn and BrightSide says I did wonderfully, although I doubt he would have told me anything else. (I had my peeps ready to storm the lectern if I fell to pieces but luckily that wasn’t necessary.) I even managed to make it back to my pew without tripping (stupid heels).
To be honest, I’m still a little stunned I pulled it off. The night I made that promise to my dad I went home and thought wow, you just made a HUGE mistake. But, much like life, there was no going back. Only forward. So I took a deep breath and dove in with the best intentions. I was determined to keep my word.
In the end, though, it was T-man’s faith that helped me push through when I thought there was nothing left but failure. I can still hear his voice echoing in my head…You can do this, mom.
I can do this.