Music and mourning

I’ve  been in Oklahoma for much of the past two weeks bidding farewell to my father-in-law, L. J. Beaty, who died on Friday.

L. J. was a humble man with a strong faith, which has given my wife and our family great comfort during this time of mourning. He also loved music, and he always encouraged my musical endeavors. Although he never really learned much beyond a few guitar chords, he enjoyed nothing more than to be surrounded with singing and playing.

And music, it turned out, played a big role in his passing.

In his final days, one of his doctors gave my wife a particularly bleak assessment of his condition. She was devastated. Later she slipped on her iPod. The first song that came up: “Walk On” by U2. The lyrics pierced her heart in a new way, bringing a painful kind of peace:

You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen
You could have flown away
A singing bird in an open cage
Who will only fly, only fly for freedom

Walk on, walk on
What you’ve got they can’t deny it
Can’t sell it, can’t buy it
Walk on, walk on
Stay safe tonight

And I know it aches
And your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on, walk on

Home… hard to know what it is if you’ve never had one
Home… I can’t say where it is but I know I’m going home
That’s where the hurt is

I know it aches
How your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on, walk on

Hearing those words helped, she said, to prepare for what was to come.

Later, after all hope had slipped away, his family gathered around his bed in the ICU. Although it was past visitor’s hours, the nurses knew the end was near and had allowed us in.

There in the darkened room, accompanied only by the clicks and whirs of the machines connected to L. J., a few of his relatives decided to sing him into the hereafter. They sang an old gospel song by Bill and Gloria Gaither, “Going Home.”

Going home, I’m going home

There’s nothing to hold me here;

Well, I’ve caught a glimpse of that heavenly land,

Praise God, I’m going home

Soon he was, indeed, gone to his spiritual home.

At the funeral I was honored to play some hymns — along with “Love Me Tender,” a favorite of L.J. and his wife’s — during a slideshow of photos from his life. At the cemetery, we all sang “Amazing Grace.” And we left him there, in his shiny black casket, his worn Bible in his hand and notes written by two of his young grandchildren inside.

And one last item from me: a guitar pick. I figured he just might need it.


Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: