Rhiannon's latest post features a video of a song by the wondrous Loreena McKennitt and it opened my emotions in the late of night to considerations of my mother's death in 2000......because I had another of McKennitt's songs played at my mother's memorial service. It's the one in this video, beautifully-produced by a creative someone known at You Tube as Azurelce5, who not only provided the words to the song in the video but also provided this additional information:
Dante's PrayerMy mother died without specifying any wishes about a funeral or memorial service. But she raised me with instructions to scatter her ashes in the ocean. In her lifetime she lived near the ocean in New York, California (Berkeley and Santa Monica), Florida, and finally here near the Oregon coast. When she passed away at the end of October 2000 Mike and I played a wait-and-see game with the stormy sea and the captain we commissioned to take just the two of us out on his whale watching boat. We had scheduled a day in early November that grew too stormy by the time we arrived at the appointed time. There was no way the boat could attempt to cross the bar* at Depoe Bay without being slammed into the giant rocks on either side. So that night I stayed in a motel with my mother's ashes (and, having brought this CD for the trip, played this song over and over before sleep) and Mike drove home to care for the pets, then returned the next morning early hoping it would be a "go"...and it was.
inspired by Dante's The Divine Comedy (a vernacular poem in 100 cantos), Loreena thinks about the human condition and how we all want to believe there is a place better than our own. An almost sorrowful and yet hopeful melody. Italian poet, Dante (1265-1321) gave an explanation of what happens after we die and this question is still just as controversial today.
Loreena McKennitt's haunting music combines a Russian Orthodox Easter hymn with her own music and imaginative lyrics about a prayer Dante might have uttered after he and Virgil had left Hell's icy center and were journeying close to the threshold between Hell and Purgatory.
The captain and his deck hand stayed inside the cabin, affording us complete privacy on deck. They said that there had been a whale sighting early that morning so we had that on our minds, although it's a stretch to say I had anything on my mind that day. It went in a whir. When the captain got us out there he cut the engines and we opened the urns (my mother had saved the ashes of her beloved dog, Tippy, who died a few years earlier and asked that they go together) and Mike scattered Tippy's while I scattered my mother's ashes. I wish I'd been more mindful of it at the time but I was in a daze as some of them blew back into our faces and onto our tongues. The ashes stayed momentarily on top of the water before being folded into the wake of the boat and then accepted by the sea. We tossed a beautiful wreath of flowers that my sister ordered from Indiana (it was a little dried after having had to wait an extra day but it looked lovely on the water).
And then it struck me. I hadn't given any thought to saying something at that private moment. My mother hadn't requested anything to be read, Mike and I hadn't discussed it, and so there we stood at the back of the boat watching the wreath bob away from us. What came to me was a favorite poem of mine and also of my mother's after I introduced it to her, one that I, thankfully, had memorized. So I spoke over the ocean the words to Yeats' When You Are Old.
........You'd have to have known my passionate, romantic mother to realize that it was an ok poem for the moment, maybe even a perfect poem. Because if there was ever a woman who loved life and lived it as a sensual journey she was that woman. She did not go easily from this world, questioning God about her having to go at that time right up to the last days. She didn't pray about it, she pouted. And then, in her final two days, she meditated from deep inside, returning to the surface to talk with us briefly and to relay fabulous hallucinations.......or maybe they weren't hallucinations, who knows. Did a little boy really dart across the floor of her bedroom and disappear into the wall? Could I possibly have been sitting on the lap of fat Chinese man there on the chair beside her bed (she scowled at him)? Did she feel her mother holding her hand as she said? ..........
The poem said, Mike then took his trumpet to his lips and played Taps so beautifully that it still brings tears to my eyes when I recall the moment. The captain and deck hand were truly touched. Then suddenly the deck hand was pointing at the water near the boat and screaming: Thar she blows! Because I was in such a daze I didn't see the whale breach out of the water and I'll always so regret that the cabin obscured my view. We quickly ran to the side of the boat and stood next to the men and watched with total excitement as the whale simply swam close to the boat. Close, like ten feet away, with just the back arched above the water. We took good pictures of the whale and treasure them, but how I wish I'd gotten one of it coming out of the water.
We held the memorial service the following week and ended it with Dante's Prayer by Loreena McKennitt. The funeral director, who took charge of playing the CDs we selected, unfortunately cut off the chorus at the end. The St. Petersburg Chamber Choir is heard at both the beginning and the end of the song, and the voices are deep and low. (Turn your volume up so you don't miss the chorus like the funeral director did.)
The right words to close this post simply won't come, so I will let Yeats provide them once again (there is an excellent commentary on the poem here).......
When You are Old
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
--W. B. Yeats
* (I'm including this nautical definition because I'd never heard the term before moving to Oregon):
Bar - Large mass of sand or earth, formed by the surge of the sea. They are mostly found at the entrances of great rivers or havens, and often render navigation extremely dangerous, but confer tranquility once inside. See also: Touch and go, grounding. Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem 'Crossing the bar' an allegory for death.