I’ve been thinking about death more often these days. My dad has a terminal disease, and maybe another year or two left before it takes him. My good friend and guitarist Tim Ellis passed away a couple years ago from terminal stage 4 cancer. I have another friend battling stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. One of my best friend's dad has Alzheimer's, also a terminal illness.
When I consider death happening to my children, it terrifies me. When I think about losing my dad in the near future, I feel like my heart is all of a sudden stuck in my throat, and I'm just not ready to deal with it. I have a faith and spiritual practice, but do I really trust it to be enough for me when I'm grieving? I really want it to. But I just don't know. I guess I'm scared.
I know death is inevitable, for all of us, so I need to find a way through it. Writing “To Say Goodbye” has helped me. In collecting raw material for this song, I've asked people around me for their thoughts about death. One of my friends believes we are spirits having a human experience, and that our bodies are like puppets, just having life while our spirit is in them. Another person I spoke to had lost many family members over the course of her life. She was with many of them when they died or soon after, and she wrote messages of love on their body bags. Someone that works for hospice shared with me about the common experience of patients communicating with loved ones that have already passed away. Another friend shared about how we share the same elements in our bodies as the stars, that our human lives begin at Orion’s belt, and when we die we return to the stars.
I've also considered the wisdom about death in religious and cultural traditions: “Life is uncertain, death is certain” - Buddha. “We are all visitors to this time, this place, we are just passing through” - Aboriginal proverb. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” - Christianity. “From what is not, lead me to what is; from darkness, lead me to light; from death, lead me to what is undying” - Hinduism. In my faith practice, we get ash rubbed on our foreheads once a year, and we are reminded that we are made from dust, and to dust we shall return. Death is literally rubbed in our faces.
My daughter’s pet diamond dove died recently. I held the little bird just minutes after death, while the body was still warm, and I was struck by how calm, how at peace, but also how final it felt. There was nothing I could do to bring this bird back to life. The lack of breath and movement was startling to me. My daughter was a crying wreck. Together, we made a little white box into a coffin. We put the bird in there with flowers and millet, the bird’s favorite treat. My daughter laid a little square she had crocheted over the bird. We had a sweet little bird funeral in our backyard with songs and prayers. Taking care of the bird’s body in this way helped with saying goodbye, but it was still really sad. We like to believe the bird’s spirit is now flying free above us.
I asked my son what he thought about death. He said, "Well, when I think about our pet bird, who died, it feels like she's not really gone, because I remember her.” So true. Loved ones live on in our memories.
The ways in which our bodies get injured, sick, or just don’t work that well are reminders that they will wear out someday. But many people are very uncomfortable with death - they’d prefer to not think about it. It’s easy to do this in our ready-made, pre-packaged, air-brushed, fast-paced society. I’m trying not to ignore it anymore.
“To Say Goodbye” releases on April 19, 2019, which is also Good Friday, the most solemn day in the calendar of my faith tradition. I hope this song helps people of any faith or spiritual practice feel more at peace with death, wherever they may be at in their process with it. I’m still working through it.
I’ve learned that when leaves fall, their bodies feed the earth
I’ve heard we’re made from dust, and to dust we shall return
And on the other side of darkness, there is light
That all things have a season, a time to live, and one to die
But what if I’m not ready to say goodbye?
You, who I love, someday I’ll have to let you go
The where, the when, the how, no one could ever know
So may I hold onto life in hands that are open
And trust that love is there to help me when my heart is broken
On the day we have to say goodbye
Give me your hand in this moment
Please, let’s just savor this moment
I’ll have you and hold you in this moment
Until we have to say goodbye
I’ve heard that after death, those we love aren’t really gone
In hearts and stories told, we all can live on and on
May I treasure the memories made in this lifetime
And pray for the belief that I’ll see you on the other side
So I will be able to say goodbye
track released April 19, 2019
Naomi LaViolette: composition, guitar & vocals
Kiel Bishop: production, engineering and graphic design
Christine Neill: artwork
Portland, Oregon-based songwriter, pianist and vocalist Naomi LaViolette has found her niche in the marriage of two worlds:
folk singer and jazz soulstress. Combining otherworldly Sarah McLachlan-like vocals with the soul of Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones’ understated elegance and Ingrid Michaelson’s playfulness, LaViolette’s songs demand your attention....more