The weeks leading up to Grandma’s death were exhausting and frustrating. I was in new territory, dealing with emergency room visits, rehab, social workers, and most of all, Grandma’s unhappiness with her circumstances.
words + photographs AMY TYNDALL
Her decline from independence to high-need care happened very quickly, and she never adjusted. Sometimes she lashed out at the nurses caring for her, and a few times she even lashed out at me. There were some sweet moments between us in those final weeks, like reading a chapter from the book of Matthew, together, each day. But there were also moments I regret. Instead of respecting her right to make her own decisions on what she could still control, I chose to argue with her about not wearing her hearing aids and refusing to do physical therapy.
Music was my key to grieving well.
When the time came for Grandma’s funeral, the detritus of those final weeks had to be set aside. I selected the casket and flowers in almost one fell swoop, but I poured myself into choosing the songs to be played during the funeral service. I needed to focus my mind on her new, heavenly home. I needed to rejoice with her that her time on earth was complete. Choosing songs with meaningful lyrics helped me do this.
When We All Get To Heaven
The first song was Casting Crowns’ rendition of “When We All Get to Heaven.” This upbeat, classic hymn anticipates the joy believers will have upon their arrival to heaven. The lyrics of the chorus are:
When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!
“When We All Get to Heaven” was also a song my mom, Grandma’s daughter and only child, had chosen for her own funeral in 2014. (She shared my love of music, and song selection was important to her as well.)
Give Me Jesus
The next song was “Give Me Jesus” sung by Fernando Ortega, a simple but powerful American spiritual. The writer of the lyrics yearns for Jesus at different times of life, including the end of life. The last verse says:
When I come to die
When I come to die
Oh, when I come to die
Give me Jesus.
The last song was “Going Home” performed by Chloë Agnew. The melody is from the Largo movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful melodies ever written. The lyrics by William Arms Fisher are just as lovely. They speak of going “home” to see friends and family. So many people went before Grandma: her parents, her husband, both of her sisters, and her only daughter. The song’s picture of them greeting her was a comfort to me.
Goin’ home, goin’ home
I’m a goin’ home…
Mother’s there, expecting me
Father’s waitin’ too
Lot’s o’folk gather’d there
All the friends I knew
Grandma lived in two different assisted living facilities during the last few years of her life, and she struggled to feel settled. When she was at the hospital or at a rehab place, the workers would say things like, “Let’s get you home.” Her reply was always, “I don’t have a home.” Hearing her say this always saddened me, but this song assures me she is no longer unsettled: She is home.
No more stumbling on the way
No more longing for the day
Going to roam no more!
… Real life just begun
Stand By Me
The old hymn “Stand by Me” composed by Albert Tindley somehow came to my attention during the difficult weeks of Grandma’s decline. I didn’t include it at the funeral, mostly because I couldn’t find a recording that was perfect, but I learned the chords and played it on my ukulele during quiet moments.
This practice tremendously helped me process my grief. Like the song “Give Me Jesus” mentioned above, the lyrics point to Jesus as an anchor during difficult times throughout life on earth.
When I’m growing old and feeble
Stand by me
When my life becomes a burden
And I’m nearing chilly Jordan
Oh Thou Lilly of the Valley
Stand by me
Music and lyrics can cut through the yucky stuff of everyday struggles and get straight to the point. These songs supported me and kept me focused during an otherwise hectic and bewildering time. Music was my key to grieving well. AT
Amy Tyndall is a gardener, reader, musician, wife to Keith, and homeschool mom to Lydia and Luke.
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