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The power of song – stories from Palliative Care Volunteers in NSW

  • by Volunteer Hub
  • May 25, 2017

During National Palliative Care Week 2017 we are sharing stories from palliative care volunteers in NSW, collated by editor and palliative care biographer Ros Bradley over the last couple of months.

Ros asked volunteers if they would share an inspirational moment, a story of resilience, a transforming experience, a special poem, text, image or piece of music.

Along the way she spoke to some 60 of the 1,600 or so palliative care volunteers around the state, with 21 of them sending her contributions that gave us unique insights into their experiences, inspirations and inner life as volunteers.

Here is one of the stories. Thank you to all the volunteers who contributed.

The power of song (by Judy)

I stood alone, beside the casket at my sister Susan’s funeral and sang. The song had been tapping me on the head for two years and asking me to sing it for her at the end.

There were only two of us. We grew up in a troubled household, leaving us often uneasy with each other. Perhaps that is why, as children, we began singing in harmony, she in her soft alto voice, me in my uncertain soprano.

Down yonder green valley where streamlets meander…

Where twilight is fading, I pensively rove…. 

It gave us hard-won moments of sweetness, tuning in with each other. Was that the source of my love of singing in harmony, a capella?

My gospel group in Sydney performed yearning, funky numbers about life, love, death, loss, grief – and triumph in the face of it all. I Shall Wear a Crown, that insistent song, was my favourite expression of that poignant mix.

I shall wear a crown, when it’s all over…

I shall see His Face, when it’s all over… 

I’m gonna put on my robe, tell the story how I made it over…

Soon as I get home. 

It kept singing to me through 2012 as Susan and I spent more time together. She was terminally ill, trying to maintain some enjoyment while undergoing painful treatments and, as her condition worsened and others came to light, making life-and-death choices.

“2013 will be her last year,” they told us. As the year progressed, I wondered how to acknowledge and celebrate her life and her courage in dying in this very tough way.

The song persisted. “Sing me,” it hummed. “Sing me! It’s her song.”

In her last days I sat with her, slept alongside her in Intensive Care. She roused from time to time, then less and less. “Sing me!” it prodded. “Sing me, it’s her song.”

On her last day, she opened her eyes and looked clearly at me. “Not long now,” she said.

“Yes. It will be strange to be without you. I have known you longer than anyone and soon we have to say goodbye.” Silence. Slowed breathing. I held her hand against my cheek.

“I know a song that speaks how you have lived this journey. I want to ‘sing you out’ and I’d like you to hear it.” I sang quietly, aware of other intensely ill people and staff nearby. Her nurses paused to listen.

The funeral was held at Canberra’s All Saints Church, once the mortuary station chapel in Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery, which had been moved piece by piece to the national capital. It has a high vaulted ceiling and wide central access between the pews, enough for a train to pull in and unload its departed passengers. It has wonderful acoustics.

Susan’s coffin stood in the middle. I gave the eulogy at the pulpit, then turned to stand beside her. I ‘sang her out’ full-out, it was my first public a capella solo.

I’m gonna put on my robe, tell the story how I made it over…

And now she is home.

Listen to the song which, while not an a capella rendition, is faithful to the spirit of traditional gospel.

Pic: Judy

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