The healing power of our congregation singing in one voice
I sat in church, enveloped in my sadness. Pam, our only daughter, our beloved daughter, was, by all apparent signs, dying from cancer. Why had this cruel illness chosen her?
She was 42, with a husband and two sons, ages 9 and 12. We all needed and wanted her. Why would a person who has always been healthy suddenly have this diagnosis? Though I have been a Christian for many years, I now doubted God’s wisdom. Though many believe “it is all a part of God’s plan,” I did not want anyone to say these words me. The phrase “God knows best” was beyond anything I could heed. Nearly all our friends at church were sensitive and kind in their words of support. This was an invaluable gift.
The congregation was singing “Come, Ye Disconsolate,” and I thought, without a doubt, I was disconsolate. The last line of each verse was surely sung this morning for me: “Earth has no sorrows that Heav’n cannot heal” or “cure” or “remove.” The strength of the voices of the entire congregation singing these words as one voice gave me a minuscule piece of assurance.
This unified harmony added strength to the words. It was two weeks after Easter. The pastor appealed to us to keep Easter alive in our hearts. He stated, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.”
I barely noticed his words. Later the congregation sang “My Life Flows On.” I remembered singing this song several years earlier, when a young friend had lost her husband in divorce. The words had seemed strengthening for her, and now I took heart as everyone sang, “No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging. … How can I keep from singing?” Again, I felt strengthened at hearing the oneness in the voice of the entire congregation singing this song. Though physically I could not sing at the moment, I knew that my life will flow on “above earth’s lamentation,” even though there would be many days that would feel dark and dreary.
In the months and now also a few years since our daughter’s death, there are many days that I ask, Why? We need her so much. Her children need her so much.
Last year my husband and I attended a Hospice retreat. One morning we were invited to sit at round tables. In front of us were hammers and pillow cases and a brand new, clean clay pot for each of us. We were told to break our pots. I placed my pot into one of the pillow cases and slammed it on the floor twice, making sure it shattered into countless pieces. I wanted my pot to be as crushed as I felt. Afterward, some of the other participants tried to glue their pots back together again. I didn’t try. Our lives can never be put back together as if nothing happened. Neither could I use some of the decorations provided to adorn my pot as some others were doing. I knew I could bring neither beauty nor sense out of what this pot had been before it was so viciously broken. I am angry at the cancer that ravaged my daughter’s body, then sucked her life away. I have the recognition that I have to live with my “broken pieces.”
Life will never be the same, and though I know full well that I must go on and accept the “new normal,” I cannot hoodwink myself into living as though Pam’s death had not happened. False acceptance of this would be more than stressful. I know all the platitudes and don’t need to hear them quoted to me. That does not help. The love, acceptance and especially the listening of friends is the gift I cherish.
Several months ago, a lady from our church told me she keeps a picture of Pam on her refrigerator to remind her to pray for us. What a gift! I could not adequately find the words to convey to her my appreciation. This lady had not even known Pam but found the picture after the memorial service when coming to lock up the church. This kind of “loving support” is enormously comforting.
Some days I wonder, What is she doing up there anyway? Why was it so all-important that she went when she did, leaving all the rest of us here without her, and especially leaving two young sons. She had wanted to live and see them grow up. Breaking that clay pot was an apt mode of dealing with my spirit. But I could not sing when I broke the pot. My congregation was not present at this retreat to sing for me. I needed to be reassured by the community of believers singing our faith.
Though a few years have passed since Pam’s death, and though we have had many kind, supportive friends as well as compassionate care from people we didn’t even know, my heart will be permanently broken. Yet my head knows that faith is more than what I see or feel. I know that God is present and walks with me. The strength I felt in the corporate singing of our congregation, even when I could not sing, sustains me—these people, singing, are a powerful source of belief and trust in God for me.
They continue to sing Sunday after Sunday. The songs are vital to my walk with God.
I am comforted to know that I belong to this group of people that believes God is here for the disconsolate. Singing with this congregation of fellow believers regenerates my faith. With their support and the grace of God, I can go forward, believing my life can flow on.
Faye M. Nyce is a member of Landisville (Pa.) Mennonite Church.