The Service of Remembrance is Thursday night in Savannah. It’s a year’s worth of loss and a month’s worth of work, designed to honor the memories of those who died since the last service, often far sooner than might have been expected and most certainly than was acceptable.
During the service there is a Power Point presentation that focuses on each individual, giving their name and dates of birth and death and adding a picture if one was supplied for the memorial folders. Rather than sitting in stony silence or listening to the sobs and sniffles of those in attendance, we play music in the background. At least twenty minutes of music and sometimes more, depending upon the number of slides and how fast they rotate through the presentation. And each year while trying to select those songs, I sit at the laptop and listen to all that seem to be likely candidates based on their title and their length. In case you don’t already know titles are often deceptive so unfamiliar songs must be listened to closely and completely.
I try to vary the music slightly from one year to the next; after all, on occasion we have families we serve in consecutive years, so there is always the possibility of repeat attendees. On Wednesday I sat with the laptop—the one on which we run all of our music—and scanned the songs we had purchased to see if I could find any I had not used that might be appropriate.
You’d think every song we had in our iTunes library of funeral music would be considered service worthy, but that’s not always the case. Granted, the choice is the family’s and we encourage them to select songs that are a reflection of the person who has died, so we get ones like “Stairway to Heaven”, the eight minute version of “Freebird”, “Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz”, and “You’re the Reason Our Kids are Ugly”, just to mention a few. Although those might be understandable for a particular individual, I’m not at all certain a chapel full of grieving folks from a variety of families will share that appreciation. So I choose middle-of-the-road music that doesn’t get all dramatic and loud at the end, music that is soft and weepy and emotional. After all, this is everyone’s opportunity to openly grieve in a setting where everyone around them shares their sense of loss.
As I scanned the list of songs, one in particular seemed to scream for my attention, “If I Had Only Known” by Reba McEntire. I had heard the song before and knew she recorded it after losing eight members of her band in a plane crash, but I had forgotten how much regret could be packed into four minutes of music.
If I had only known it was the last walk in the rain, I’d keep you out for hours in the storm . . . If I had only known I’d never hear your voice again, I’d memorize each thing you ever said . . . You were the treasure in my hand, you were the one who always stood beside me, so unaware I foolishly believed that you would always be there. But then there came a day and I turned my head and you slipped away. If I had only known it was my last night by your side, I’d pray a miracle would stop the dawn . . . If I had only known.
By God’s grace or a benevolent act of Nature or however you believe, we are blessed not to know when those we love will leave. But as too many people have learned the hard way, that blessing is also a curse. The holidays are here and, even in the midst of the chaos, we tend to focus more on those we love. I vote we make that a year-long practice so when the day comes that we turn our heads and someone slips away, we will not find ourselves saying “if I had only known . . .”