Music and Funerals and Tears

4:55:00 PM

From my diary:

19th March

This morning at Mass, the first hymn was On Eagle's Wings, which was the hymn we sang at Thomas' funeral, as we processed to his burial site. How music brings back all the emotions and memories of an occasion. I could just see us all walking slowly behind Thomas’ coffin. I cried…

We asked our dear friend Marion to play the organ for us at Thomas' funeral. She asked us what hymns we wanted and I just shook my head helplessly. It was all too much. I couldn't think. I sat numbly in a pew at the back of the church and cried while Marion searched through the hymn books. Soon she'd make a possible list and I nodded and trusted her choice completely.

I'd never heard of On Eagle's Wings before Marion chose it for Thomas' funeral. I know many people don't like this modern hymn but for me, this hymn is now forever entwined with my memories of our son. Every time I hear it, I am transported back to the day we buried our baby at St Patrick's at Sutton Forest.

It was Father Francis who suggested we have Thomas' funeral at St Patrick's, a rarely used church that is situated right next to the cemetery.

"We can process straight from the church to the burial site."

And that is what we did.

The funeral came to an end. Marion struck the first notes of On Eagle's Wings and I found myself following along behind Thomas' coffin. The sounds of the choir and the organ drifted out of the church door and followed us as we wound our way slowly along the path between all the headstones to the children's section.

I can still see us on that sorrowful day: Father holds Thomas' coffin so very carefully. I am grasping two-year-old Charlotte's hand as I walk close to my husband, Andy. The children look bewildered. The sun falls upon us as we emerge from the dark church. I assume our family and friends are following us. I don't look back to see. I am in my own little world, my eyes on the coffin. I don't want to look ahead. I don't want to see the prepared grave with the damp soil heaped to one side. I don't want to think about how very soon Thomas will be lowered into the ground. Soon it will be time to say goodbye and he will be gone from us.

A couple of years ago, I went to the funeral of a friend's baby. She had chosen On Eagle's Wings as the processional hymn. The ten years between Thomas' burial and that day might never have happened. It felt like Thomas had died only yesterday. I was back at St Patrick's walking slowly along the path, following my son to the edge of that deep yawning hole.

As I stood listening to the hymn, my body heaved with sobs, and I knew that the grief that I thought had finally disappeared was still lying hidden in that secret place within me. It will never leave me. I have just learnt to live with it. And I thought: No parent should ever have to suffer this pain. How can anyone survive such sorrow? I knew intimately the grief my friend was suffering and the long pathway of pain that faced her. And there was nothing I could do about it. I cried for my friend and her husband and for their longing for their son. And I cried for Thomas.

Some weeks after Thomas' funeral, Marion played On Eagle's Wings at a Sunday Mass. As soon as I realised what the hymn was, I pushed my way out of the pew and ran outside as far away as I could get, with my hands over my ears. But it was too late. I cried. Later, Marion knelt with me at the altar and after we'd prayed, she said, "I guess it's too soon for that hymn." And I replied, "It will always be too soon."

It is strange how sounds can evoke such strong emotions, how music can conjure up such vivid images, how we can think we have healed from something completely and then be thrust right back into the centre of that pain.

On Eagle's Wings is Thomas' hymn. Do you have a special piece of music which transports you back in time?

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