It would have been Mom's 85th birthday today.
As I write this, a friend and colleague is in shock and grief as his mother has just passed away. He is considerably younger, his mother was probably my age. From the beginning, he continued to post her condition online and I have shared his sorrow as she went in and out of the hospital and into hospice care. Every post was a reminder of how great a chasm is opened by the loss, a window into pain of grief. Every post was followed by words of consolation from his many friends.
A few days ago Dad broached the subject of Mom's impending birthday. In years past, this would have meant lobster, but in a conversation with Helen, Dad said we should commemorate, not celebrate, so we're heading to Matt's for Chile Rellenos.
All of these threads came to focus last night at choir rehearsal. As winter ends, the season turns to the Superbowl, Mardi Gras and Lent and our music shifts into quiet and reflective minor keys. And as we sang the following anthem, tears just welled up and flowed and I had to stop singing. Please listen:
Herbert Howells was an organist and composer of Anglican music written to be sung in the great English cathedrals. Last night we were rehearsing of his setting of the psalm "Like as the Hart." which was composed in the darkest days of World War II. The music is quiet and personal and expresses the magnitude of the chasm of grief and despair. It begins with peaceful melancholy "so longeth my soul after thee." But that's just the emotional trigger as emotions turn to grief. "My tears have been my meat, both day and night." I have learned to treasure these moments of raw grief. It is then that Mother is most present and the moment is most desolate. "Where, where is thou, my god." The music is at its loudest and most discordant then returns to the peaceful melancholy before concluding with the profound encounter with life, death, grief and God in the powerful ending chord. "When shall I come before the presence, the presence of God?"