Not Deferential Enough: Singing to sleep

Posted Friday, November 27, 2020 in Features

Not Deferential Enough: Singing to sleep

by Gina Hamilton

When I was a young girl of sixteen, my cousin Renee asked me to sing a song at her wedding. I did her one better; I wrote a song for her wedding. My coffeehouse singing partner, Susan, and I performed the song in close female harmony -- think Simon and Garfunkel for young treble voices. Years later, even after the marriage failed, she told me how touched she was that I was there and sang for her.

The years went by; I went away to college, traveled around the world and moved across the country twice, got married, had a child, and in short, lost touch with my cousins, keeping in touch only with Christmas cards, my appearance at the very occasional funeral, and failing that,  through flowers and condolence letters for the deaths of parents  and congratulatory letters at the birth of children and the marriages of said children.

I sang, now, in English, Welsh, Irish, or as it is sometimes known, Gaelish, and Scots Gaelic, putting my own son to sleep, a succession of foster children, and later, my own granddaughter, who fell asleep to the sound of my voice every night as an infant and toddler. Not for them the typical lullabies, but songs of love unrequited or lost, the songs of the death of hope, the songs of defeated nations, the songs of the deaths of kings and queens. For what is sleep but a little death?

And then the songs of the acceptance of the coming of the everlasting night.

Of all the money, that 'ere I had, I spent it in good company ...

On the same day that my father had been gone for ten years, I sang my dear friend and editor Fred, to sleep on the last day of his life, as I held his hand and let the sweet lilting sound drift him away from me forever. I sang both of their souls to sleep at the same time.

Songs of freeing oneself from the burden of one's own past...

And all the harm that 'ere I've done, alas it was to none but me, and all I've done, for want of wit, to memory now, I can't recall ...

Songs of the hope that one will be remembered well by one's friends and loved ones ...

So fill to me the parting glass, goodnight and joy be to you all!

When the call came for me to sing Renee to sleep, it was the day before Thanksgiving. She had had a stroke that was slowly ending her life, but she was able to be home, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, as the evening fell. All hope for recovery was lost, but she was well-reconciled, and so, from 1500 miles away on the phone I sang The Parting Glass, as I had done before, many times.

So fill to me the parting glass, and drink a health, what 'ere befalls, and gently rise and softly call, goodnight and joy be to you all!

She died later that night, though I didn't know it until the next morning.  That night, I dreamed she had come to me, wearing a lacy white gown, raising a glass to me. That day, as I bustled about making turkey and all the trimmings, I opened a bottle of wine, and raised a glass back to her, and sang, all alone in my kitchen:

So fill to me the parting glass, and gather as the evening falls, and gently rise, and softly call, goodnight and joy be to you all!

Goodnight and joy be to you all!

2020 has been the hardest year of my life, with losses, tangible and intangible, almost impossible to bear. But acknowledgement of the passages of life, however abbreviated and sorrow-filled, are what we owe the dying and the dead. If my small and mean offering helps the dying to rest, no matter how difficult my role, I shall continue it. If it gives a measure of peace to those left behind, I consider it an honor to be the voice that provides that peace.

Goodnight. And joy be to you all.

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