Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Tear Jerker

Kyu Sakamoto

The most powerful part of a service can be a song that starts the tears flowing. This is a cathartic release of emotion and a beautiful mixture of joy and sorrow. When I am making arrangements with a family, I'll try to find out if there is a special song - not necessarily Amazing Grace or In the Garden- that holds special memories. Sometimes families are reluctant to include a song in the service because they know it will start everyone to sobbing, but as an undertaker, I know that that is just what they need. A funeral is a safe place to cry, and if you can deal with those emotions in a safe place right away, you're on the path forward. Music holds so many memories for us, and I've seen it work it's magic many times.
One of the most moving experiences I've had was at my mother-in-law's memorial gathering. There was no formal service planned, just a gathering at a son's house. My wife and I knew how important some structure was to making this gathering a positive experience, so we planned a prayer, a eulogy, time for sharing memories, and finally a special song.
It wasn't easy to get the music for the one US hit by Japanese Artist Kyu Sakamoto, but finally we found the CD on and had it over-nighted. All of Mary's children remembered her playing this when they were kids, and at the end of the service when 'Sukiyaki' played, I was bawling along with the rest of them. It was very sad, but very sweet and meaningful, and a wonderful release of emotion and pain.

Special songs are often best at the end of the service. I remember a young man who died tragically. His family had always referred to him as their sunshine. We found a beautiful acoustic version of 'You are my sunshine' to play as the recessional. It said more for the family that the whole rest of the service and we were all deeply moved.

An uplifting song that is often played at the end of traditional African-American services is 'I'll fly away'. Many times I have watched friends and relatives walk by a loved one's casket at the close of a funeral to this moving song-crying and dancing at the same time.

As an apprentice, my mentor Scott Whitaker taught me that the small services are just as important as the big ones. One night the staff almost outnumbered the guests as a few gathered to remember a special woman who was challenged by mental illness. Though she had become isolated, there were still those who loved her and travelled long distances to share a few memories and listen together to her favorite song 'The Happy Wanderer'. I never thought of this as a funeral song before, but it really is a very fitting sentiment....


Anonymous said...

Kyu Sakamoto's Sukiyaki is one of my own lifelong favorites...thanks for the link to his video because I've never seen him perform it. Sadly, Kyu Sakamoto was killed in a plane crash on Guam not to many years ago.

I once put together a PowerPont presentation for a memorial service for my friend's mom. I noticed that many of the pictures had nice shots of her at the beach so the music I added to it was Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's cover of It's a Wonderful Life. I lucked out because it was very well received and pleased the family.

Charles Cowling said...

Wow, that Kyu Sakamotu song brought back memories. I haven't heard it for years!

Yes, music is incredibly powerful. Over in the UK a mother will often choose James Blunt's Goodbye My Lover for her son's funeral. The words are not apposite, but that's not the point: the sentiment is; the meaning is poetic. Music can say far more than words -- and transcend the words of the song.

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