31 Kira Kenley shares her creative dilemmas and decisions every Friday. You can read her earlier posts here
A family member is dead and we will send him off in typical Irish style. There will be a wake. I must travel to Portugal, which is the place this branch of my family calls home.
Just before I leave for the airport, there is a phone call, would I please sing at the funeral. It would be my great honour. I say this immediately, without needing additional thought or consideration. A hymn is suggested which I do not know but I download it and begin learning it on the plane as I make my way to Faro where my cousin will meet me and drive me to his sister and her late husband’s home.
I sing the song all through the 2 ½ hour flight hoping my voice is lost under the sound of the engine but judging by how the couple beside me glance over every now and then, I surmise that they hear me. Perhaps, they might think I am a nun or a nervous flyer. The thought makes me smile.
Once I get to the villa, I think I’ve learned the song but when I am called upon to sing it, I can’t remember a single word. So I make a suggestion, it is a hymn I have loved all my life and one I know inside out. My cousin Claire, who understandably looks as sad and diminished as I have ever seen her look, loves the song. I will sing this at, her husband, Ray’s funeral.
The day of the funeral arrives following an emotional 24 hours which had seen me reunited with many family members I haven’t seen in years and also brought ‘Ray’ home for his last night under the same roof as his beloved wife. Well his physical body anyway. His spirit will, I have no doubt, remain in the same place it had mostly dwelled while he was alive, as close to his Claire as possible.
We go to the church and the service begins. It is beautiful and I am moved by every measured and meaningful moment. Then comes my time to sing just before the service ends. I make my way to the altar and I am so nervous. My heart is jumping out of my chest as I begin to think about what is occurring. I am singing for the first time in front of many of my family members and there is a feeling of needing to prove myself. My feet go cold and my palms begin to sweat. But then I remember…
I have nothing to prove to anyone, the idea itself is a nonsense and born out of ego. The only thing I have to do is what I love to do, sing. I am singing to celebrate a life and I as I stand beside the coffin adorned by the Arsenal flag and a beautiful picture of the man that has been and impacted all of our lives, I feel this great honour.
The voice comes and with it the realization that I am not singing “for” my family but “with” them, with all the people in the church. I sing and they meet me in that place from where all songs come. We move as one body and we let our collective grief move with the music. The words ‘Be Not Afraid’ spoken to every one of us from somewhere that knows. Somewhere that understands death fully and will guide us all through it when our time comes.
My song comes to an end and I look at my broken cousin and in that moment she looks a little less broken and I see something in her eyes that tells me she will be okay. She will get over this awful loss. We will all get over this loss because that is what we do. That is the human spirit. We love and we lose and although it is excruciatingly painful, eventually we go on to love again.
We leave the church and head to the Irish wake, which will be a huge party. We are celebrating a life and this we do. There is drink and there is laughter, as stories are swapped much to the astonishment of the Portuguese, who have a different way of mourning their loved ones. But today although we are in Portugal, we are behaving like the Irish.
And then just before we all finish up and go home, there is a sing – song and once again I sing with my family. We sing together and as we sing the family bond is forged, the one which seems to remain no matter how much time and distance is put in its way.
Tomorrow, we will leave and head away in different directions, back to our own lives but somehow we will all have a little of the other inside of us and we will carry the memory of this wonderful celebration.
It is the stuff that will get us through and keep us alive and connected no matter what. It feels a lot like love and I am reminded of Rumi’s words:
“Love is the whole thing.
We are only pieces.”
The day after the funeral, as I sit on the plane making its way back to London, I feel closer than ever to the pieces of my family. It warms my aching heart.