I’ve been singing songs since forever. When I was a babe it was my Irish grandmother singing songs from the old country. When I was small, it was my father humming tunes, and singing all the wrong words. When I was in school, it was sitting in the Keva, a circle around a fire or a well, singing songs from across many lands. When I older, I joined a choir called Jerk Church; a drinking group with a singing problem, and we sang the Irish songs of new.
Song has been apart of my life always. I understand when the aboriginals of Australia say they sing themselves across the land; sing illness out of their skin.
I am Irish, and when my people die we sing. We laugh, and we cry, and we above all else, sing.
Yesterday was my last night in Puerto Vallarta on this trip, and instead of walking into a fond farewell from the community I’d made here, I walked into a wake. It turned out that a few nights prior a beloved member of the community had passed due to health related circumstances. They had only just found out, and they were, for the better part, very upset. I’d only met him briefly, a handful of times, and though I can see his face clearly in my mind, we were by no means close. If I had more time here, maybe we would have been. This is not remotely the first time this has happened to me. It will not be the last.
Sat at this bar the shock of it was palpable. There’s little to say, but to nod sadly. I know my place is to give comfort, and energy. This has been one of my places for a long time in this world, and I know how to do this well. You can try and distract, but mostly you just have to validate, give permission to feel, and commiserate. For me, the hardest part is not remembering. I miss my friends, when I’m at a wake. I’ve lost a lot of friends.
But so there we are, and the speakers are going and its a cacophony of Fleetwood Mac, and Stevie Nix, and Queen, and System of a Down, and songs we all of us, stretching an age group of 30-60, all know the words too. There we are, all of us, in a giant sing along. For the first handful of songs no ones really paying attention. We’re singing, yes, but we don’t really notice the laughter or smiles. Then a sadder slower song comes on and things get somewhat somber again, and then a roaring singalong of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. That’s when I see it, realize it. Music therapy. Expression of emotions.
I witness this community, who lacked the skills to fully express their pain with anything but quiet tears, put all their pain into the familiar words of songs they knew and loved. I watched them bounce, and laugh, and dance, and take all that energy and funnel it out of themselves, out into the night sky. I watch their spirits rise with relief, not only in the letting go, but in the community, in the camaraderie, in the shared heart.
I’ve always sung songs, but in this moment I finally understood the true value of the song. I understood the healing nature of song; the therapy of song. Certainly, on a personal level, I knew these things. Even in a group, I knew these things, but my people are Irish. This is just what we do, and have always done. A group from many walks of life, with many different life experiences, and of many different races, and ages, coming together to share in something so deep and profound. This, to me, was miraculous. This to me, was a game changer.
Though I mourn our friend, and sorrow for the ache of this community, I feel a certain sense of gratitude towards him that he could bring us together in this way. On my last night might have seen a few people, yet instead, because of this wake I saw them all, and was granted permission to share in something more profound. I became part of a family.
Death is apart of life. Strive to sing songs with the living, to create, and share in these moments with those you love while they are here. Death can be an excuse, but how much stronger your heart will be if you take the time with them while they are alive.
Musica de Vida.
Musica de Muerte.