Saturday, March 28, 2009

Songs for Expressing Sorrow

I think it's because Unitarian Universalism has given me a whole new lens to look at sadness through, but UU hymns tend to be more helpful in giving me hope and direction, rather than expressing my sorrow. After reading Lizard Eater's post today and Yet Another UU's post earlier, I commented on YAUU that the songs I sing when I'm really really sad are old Baptist hymns: Great is Thy Faithfulness, the Old Rugged Cross, How Great Thou Art, that sort of thing.

The greatest sorrows in my life so far have been the deaths of my parents; no other loss has shaken me so deeply. And though I have joy and hope because of their lives, there is still sorrow in me when I think of them and the experience of losing them.

It would be unthinkable to sing anything but songs that remind me of them, hymns they loved, lullabyes they sang, rhymes they chanted for me. In our home, we had beautiful music and it all tended to be sacred music---not praise songs like the ones that are often sung in evangelical congregations but the biggies like The Messiah and Bach oratorios. Not Mozart masses, that I recall, but music out of the Reformation and other Protestant sources, including those old hymns.

Recently I had the experience of sitting with a woman who was dying, and the song that came to my mind, though I didn't sing it to her, not knowing whether it would fit for her, was a lullaby that my mother sang to me and that I sang to the FS: "Mama's darling, Daddy's sweetheart, Jesus' precious little lamb; how we love her, how we love her, how we love our Betsy girl (or Michael boy, in the FS's case)". It makes me miss my parents right now and brings tears of sadness but also joy that a simple song can bring them back for a moment.

That's the thing about sadness: joy may be right behind it. Through my parents' deaths, I learned not to postpone or avoid sadness but to live through it, let it own me for awhile, for as long as I needed it. That pain has become a treasured keepsake, brought out now on such occasions as warrant it.

I don't know what I'd sing if anything ever happened to the FS. Not old Baptist hymns, I suspect. Maybe some of the songs he used to enjoy at Youth Cons. Naw, probably not. And I don't know the kind of music he likes now. Oh, wait, no, I can't believe I'd sing that stuff. No, no....... but maybe, since laughter and tears are so closely connected. You aren't going to believe...but then, it is typical of the FS, at least as a teenager. Here's what would probably bring me to tears, if I heard them: Eat It, Like a Surgeon, Dare to Be Stupid. You get the picture: Weird Al stuff. Sorry, FS. If you want to change my sorrow songs, better help me find better material!


Lizard Eater said...

"I learned not to postpone or avoid sadness but to live through it," -- beautifully said, Ms. Kitty.

I have a cancer-parent friend who lost her daughter one month ago. People are telling her to take pharmaceuticals to deal with the pain. She says, Why would I want to put off the pain til later?

I ran across these words by Rainer Maria Rilke this week. What you wrote reminded me of them:

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves ...
Don't search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually, without even noticing it,
live your way into the answer.

ogre said...

My mother's death--and a song about the death of a friend, far away, by John McCutcheon... which has this,

"And grief has a place at the table
For it’s part of what we are made of
And it’ll stay long enough to remind us its mother
Is love "

woke me to that bit of wisdom. Stepping into--but not wallowing in--grief is embracing how much love means and meant--and continues to mean.

Curiously, grief functions to prove that love outlives and defeats death.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, LE.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Ogre.

LinguistFriend said...

Kit, I wonder whether you are experiencing the confluence of the
post-dedication let-down and your reaction to the death of a member of your congregation. Together they seem to be a heavy dose.

I tend to react negatively to a preoccupation with forms and rituals in religion, but they can be a considerable help in getting through those occasions with which we are burdened because we are mammals with a finite life-time and we have discerned a number of stages in life, and created rituals for them. For those, the Book of Common Prayer and other such works well mark those occasions in such a way as to help us share what is experienced in common with other members of the community, but many people feel uncomfortable with their specifically Christian orientation.

In the UU library, I feel that the previous edition of the hymnbook, the "Hymns of the Spirit" which I came to know in the '50s with a Syrian Universalist minister, preserves a stage of the song texts which is more helpful than the present version. At least, that is how I recall it. I need to add it to my own library, since I have never had my own copy.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, LF. It has been a hard week, with the after-math of the dedication and the death of our parishioner. Lots of things to ponder, some grief, and some relief.