During hospice I had to train myself to pay attention to Karen’s voice, for there were times I would hear my name called out during the night, only to get up and look in on her and she was sound asleep. It got to the point when I would wake to the sound of my name, I would stay in bed until I heard another call out. Most often there wasn’t a second summoning. I was hearing something that wasn’t there.
I guess this is pretty common. My dad told me he would often hear my voice calling out to him while he was out on the tractor or working in the barn after I left for college. I know there are psychological explanations for this occurrence, but my intuition tends to look in other places for explanation, namely in my own heart. It’s not rational and wouldn’t stand up to science, but I find I’m right more times than not. It’s why I lean in to the inner voice.
Recently, I had an experience with this next song, Latter Days. The original version was performed by Over The Rhine on the album, Good Dog, Bad Dog in 1996. But the one that moved me in a new way is covered by Lonesome Animals on Covers/Lovers released in 2018. It’s a song with which I was familiar, but it took on a new voice, literally, in this new season. The new singer’s vocal is sparse and breathy, much like I remember Karen’s during her decline.
Early one morning last week, as is my regular practice, I listen to a few songs that are currently moving me. I got this from Al DiMeola at a guitar workshop years ago. An attendee asked him what music he was listening to and he said, “I gravitate toward anything that moves me. It could be any genre. If it moves me, I pay attention.” I’ve heeded that advice.
But that morning, I heard this song in Karen’s tired and lonely voice:
What a beautiful piece of heartache
This has all turned out to be
Grief is painful, but pain does not have to win. My faith leads me to believe that Joy is the most powerful condition in the world, because it is the constant temperature of Heaven. The Joy of the Lord is my strength. Pain is a temporary condition. Joy is eternal. Pain will come to pass. Joy will come to stay.
There is a me you would not recognize, dear
Call it the shadow of myself
The hardest part of watching someone die is to have to see that person in a condition that is so far from their original state of vibrance and vigor. Karen was strong, independent, athletic and always on the go. She hated losing that independence and becoming unable to even get to the fridge for a drink of water.
And if the music starts before I get there
Dance without me, you dance so gracefully
I really think I’ll be okay
Karen was chronically late everywhere we went our entire marriage. She also really didn’t like dancing, but would defer to me on occasion. She was too self-conscious. This was her way of saying I won’t be there to dance with you, but I’ll be OK without you. Please carry on. Don’t wait for me.
They’ve taken a toll, these latter days
Nothing like sleeping on a bed of nails
Nothing much here but our broken dream
Oh, but baby, if all else fails
Nothing is ever quite what it seemsSong – Latter Days · Artist – Over the Rhine
Album – Good Dog Bad Dog ℗ 1996
We had our share of challenges during our life together. One third of marriage was consumed by cancer. All our businesses failed. We went bankrupt. That’s only part of it all. But despite how it all seems, there is a firm foundation on which I can still stand and rebuild with Hope. Nothing is ever quite what it seems. This is the message with which I emerge. Yes, they’ve taken their toll, these latter days, but…
…there is always Hope.