The Saddest Song

October 31, 2022

Music expresses the unexpressible.


I missed my father’s funeral and the traditional Methodist closing song “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.” The body was held for burial until I could return from Europe to bid goodbye. I’ve never understood people denying themselves that last visit, viewing the loved one, as if the sight of a body in a coffin could obliterate a lifetime of experiences. There is closure for me when I lay my hands on the mortal home of a loved one’s soul, touching their clothes, their hair, and their ice-cold hands and face. Yes, they are dead. But the body is still precious. It held and was held by me. Fine clothes, coiffed hair, and artful makeup dress the remains for the final party.

Waking early on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, I rose, made coffee, and tuned in, looking forward to catching some of the music accompanying the event. The public funeral had ended, the procession of hundreds, thousands (?) now marching solemnly to Windsor, kept in step by classical funeral marches performed perfectly by military bands.

The “private” committal service took place at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Estate, a grand sanctuary which, for most of us, is beyond imagination. The grandeur of the chapel architecture, the garb of the clergy, and the majesty of the music contrasted with the simplicity of the service. The royal family whose baggage is continually exposed to the world was forced to grieve in public, on television. I wanted to tell them: we all have baggage. And at the time of death, much of that baggage is reduced to pettiness.

As a church organist, I played at many funeral services. There was a time when I played for services at a local funeral home. As a Christian, I view death as a part of life. As a student of psychology, I understand the need for grief. If we didn’t grieve the loss of life, would we protect it? Dry-eyed through funeral services, I cannot contain the tears when the final hymn sounds, even when I don’t know the deceased or their families. The final hymn. The joyful tune testing our sorrow. The deceased’s final song on earth. It’s over. There’s no going back.

Author: Mary Cornelius

I am an aging woman who writes three blogs.