Thursday, November 11, 2004

Singing

November 7, 1999
Sorry it's been a while since the last update. Last week was rather rough, and it was hard to put our finger on what was going on. Timmi's emotional state started deteriorating again, to the point where we had to consider canceling our trip to Paris. In the end she was hospitalized overnight Thursday-Friday for dehydration, which may have been negatively affecting her mood, and the dose of one of her medications was changed. She started feeling better in the hospital, and had a reasonable Shabbat, but we decided to defer the trip to next week (Wednesday), and shorten it to one week, as she needs to see the doctor this week for follow-up concerning the new dose of her medicine. If things stabilize over the next week, we will be able to go after all. Other than that, she will be doing various scans and other examinations before we go, in preparation for the transplant, which we still expect to take place at the end of November.

Shavua Tov to all of you.

Love, S.

November 11, 2004
When I look back at the life I was leading five years ago, I can hardly believe that a few weeks ago, I re-joined the choir with which I had sung until 13+ years ago, when my son Danny was born. While Timmi was ill, I spent virtually all my time trying to care for her and to give my other children desperately needed attention. After her death, I wasn’t able to commit myself to any kind of regular activity outside of work. I couldn’t even have imagined singing with a choir. Now, I feel that a very important part of me is reawakening.

One of the hardest losses for me after Timmi died was my ability to do, and to enjoy doing, the things I’d always loved. And making music – especially in harmony with others – has always been one of the things I’ve loved most. When I make music together with other people, each of us is part of an integral and (when all goes as it should) beautiful whole. When I make music, everything outside falls away, and all that exists for me is that one moment and the need to make it the most beautiful moment I can. When I make music, I take a sensual pleasure both in using my own body to generate beauty and in hearing the beauty that I’ve created, whether alone or together with other singers or musicians. When I sing, especially, I’m connected to my deepest emotions, even those that I normally avoid or push back when they try to assert themselves.

Timmi was musically gifted. From a very young age, she loved to sing and to dance, and to listen to all types of music, from classical music to spirituals to rock’n’roll. Singing was one of the ways she had of expressing her sometimes sunny, sometimes stormy, but always powerful feelings. She had a very deep appreciation for beauty, and was fascinated with all forms of art, whether experienced through the eyes or through the ears. (In the near future I’ll post the update describing the trip to Paris that almost didn’t happen, and you’ll see what I mean.)

Timmi and I loved to sing together. During our drives to the hospital, we’d often sing American folk songs I had taught her, songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “If I Had a Hammer.” She often made up funny Hebrew translations of these songs, but we mostly sang them in English. There were times when we even sang together at the hospital. Once, she taught the mother of another patient – and me, for that matter – the tune to a rather difficult Hebrew song (for you Israelis out there, it was Leah Goldberg’s “Slichot” as sung by Yehudit Ravitz). Singing took us, for a few moments at least, out of the children’s cancer ward and into a world of beauty and harmony. It took Timmi’s suffering body into the world of the soul.

When I come to think about it, one of the reasons Timmi liked coming to our synagogue, when she came, was our community’s spirited singing during Shabbat and holiday services. She also participated many times in women’s Torah readings, which gave her the opportunity to sing for other people. I think that for her, as for me, singing was an act of the spirit that was rooted in the world of the senses – a place where body and soul move in rhythm and together create something pleasing both to the ear and to the heart.

As Timmi approached the end of her life, she became increasingly unable to listen to music, which could no longer distract her. I see now that this was a sign that she was slowly separating from this world. Sensual pleasures could no longer hold her here; she was moving into a different dimension.

During her very last weeks, when she was lying, completely sedated, in the intensive care unit, I came every day to speak to her – and to sing to her. I sang her the lullabies that had put her to sleep when she was little, I sang her the funny Israeli children’s songs we’d learned together from records, I sang her the folk songs we’d shared, and I sang her the pop songs she’d sung with her sisters and her friends. She was too deeply unconscious to respond with her body, but I can’t believe she didn’t hear me in the deepest part of her being. I won’t believe that.

For a long time after Timmi died, I didn’t seem to be able to find the energy to sing more than occasionally. I even found it hard to join in the singing at synagogue on Shabbat, which had always been one of the high points of my week. I think now that this is because something in me was afraid that to sing would mean to open up the well of my deepest emotions, which I was doing an excellent job of blocking.

As time has passed, and I’ve slowly allowed myself to feel deeply again, I’ve found myself singing more and more. My daughter Aimee and I enjoy singing in harmony, as I did with Timmi. Music has also become a medium through which I can sometimes sense Timmi’s presence. To this day, I often feel that she’s singing together with me (or even through me) during Shabbat and holiday services. When I need to spend some time thinking about her, I often sing the haunting song she taught that other mother and me in the hospital. All the songs she loved to sing have, for me, become imbued with her spirit.

I’m very grateful to be in a place now where singing with a choir doesn’t seem like an impossible demand to make on my physical and emotional resources. If anything, singing now energizes me. And when, either alone or with the others in my choir, I sing Psalms or Biblical verses in Hebrew or in English or in Latin, I can sometimes sense that somewhere, in that other dimension, Timmi is singing along.

2 comments:

Seraphic said...

When Ariel was in the ICU a group of bochurim from Yeshiva G'dolah came to his room one afternoon and sang nigunnim to him for an hour. Their voices were so sweet and filled with emotion that soon all the nurses and residents on the floor were gathered at the door listening. I can still hear the music.

Vendelascity said...

I lost my father from Leukemia when I was 20 and he was 47. This spring, I will joining the Leukemia/Lymphoma Team in Training and running a marathon to raise money for research. I'll run it in memory of my dad and, with your permission, your daughter Timmi.

Warmest wishes,

Wendy
Chicago, IL