Many years ago at my grandfather’s funeral, we played a CD of Enya that he’d enjoyed on a family trip back to his homeland Scotland. I cannot hear Enya to this day without feeling an ache of connection with Scotland’s rugged landscape, mixed with the pain of disconnection at his loss.
One of the pieces that most haunts me from that album, contains the following lyrics –
“I hear the real, though far-off hymn,
That hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul,
To me that final line speaks of the moment we recognise life within our grief. Death may have taken someone from us and yet here we stand beside the space; numb, anguished, destroyed, relieved, raw but somehow… still alive. In my experience, it is in that moment, that all we are and hope to be comes together and we are flooded with the energy of being.
For me, the sentiment of Enya’s lyrics speaks of that moment. Through all the upheaval and pain of death, how can we keep from opening our hearts to joy?
Those lyrics resonated with me again a few years back when I came across a TEDx talk by Dr Kim Bateman entitled ‘Singing over Bones.’ In the talk, Dr Bateman encourages us to consider how we can honour loved ones who have died by creating rituals to celebrate their life.
She found inspiration in legends from the desert states of America and Mexico which speak of La Loba – the Wolf Woman. La Loba gathers up the bones of animals from the desert floor and sings over them to bring a new creature into being.
Dr Bateman facilitates workshops that help people find ways to ‘sing over the bones’ of loved ones we have lost, recognising that –
“When we lose a loved one, we still love.”
She tells the story of a little girl whose mother died of breast cancer, who sets out a cup and saucer for her at tea party’s because ‘Mama loved tea!’ And the woman who was moved at finding single gloves lost around her neighbourhood after her husband died, who now collects them to hang on trees in her garden.
But these rituals are about more than just comfort and remembrance. In honouring another’s life and death we are also honouring our own. We are not only singing over the bones of the dead but singing out the music of our heart as it says for now I am alive. I want to live, I want to be.
“We have to do this – we have to gather the bones
and reconstruct them because we have to author our loved ones story
and at the same time author our own.”
The rituals I choose to honour my Granddad are simple ones. I buy a poppy for Remembrance Sunday, dig the garden, feed the birds, shell runner beans, tell his stories. Father’s Day – the day he died – will always be his day.
As I reconnect with him, I connect with a part of myself and with my own timeline as it stretches from the past into the future. His story is a part of my story. When I sing, I do not hold back.
Click here to watch Dr Bateman’s TEDx talk. The following steps to help you honour a loved one by ‘singing over their bones’ are adapted from her talk.
“So what of this singing over bones? How can you do this in your own life? … Start with the great drum of your own heart and let that be your guide.”
- Ask yourself – what brought your loved one great joy?
- Think about the physicality of your loved one. Were they small like a bird or tall like a giraffe? What music did they like to move to?
- When you were with your loved one, how did they make you feel? Was it like climbing into a comfortable chair or a rollercoaster ride?
- What did they feel strongly about?
“Try to incorporate all of these into your own ritual. Sit in the greatest place of love and sing over their bones. Sing up new life for our loved ones and for ourselves too.”