Last week I was asked to play harp and tone for a three-day vigil over the dead body of a friend. Dear Claire followed anthroposophy (see Rudolf Steiner), which holds that the soul hovers around the body for a while after the heart stops beating. They prescribe that the body be attended for three days (three 24-hour-periods) after death. During that time, the attenders meditate, tone, chant, read the person’s favorite poetry and spiritual writings, etc.
It happened that the angels plopped a harp into my hands a month ago. Katie said: Just take it and play it and see if you want to buy it. And she generously hasn’t asked for it back yet. That is why I had a harp to play when I was called last week.
After my mother died in 2003, I studied at the Chalice of Repose Project and volunteered with CarePartners hospice so that I could better assist the dying. As it turned out, I was soon asked to assist for after-death vigils also.
Last week, the healing tones of the harp and of various toning voices resounded in the partially refurbished basement where Claire lay, beautifully dressed… and not embalmed. There were two deeply touching moments for me. One was to be playing and toning when Claire’s 83-year-old mom came down and said goodbye to her daughter’s body for the last time, after having cared for her for much of this year as Claire weakened from cancer.
The other powerful moment for me was to be toning–spirit singing– with Ariele standing at Claire’s head and I at her feet. We closed our eyes and each in her own way moved into the space of merciful love…and allowed sound to come forth. Other women did the same thing at other times. The sounds were eerily beautiful, angelic and haunting at the same time, and utterly unique. They were a soothing hand to everything that needed healing. And those compassionate sounds could never be repeated.
I learned this form of toning in 2011 on Kauai, Hawaii from Shawna Carol, the chantmaster and one of the inventors of spirit singing in its current form.
I can’t say what happens to the soul after death, where it goes or when it goes. But I am absolutely positive that having the body around for a few days is a very good thing because it give the loved ones time to witness the dead body. It is a very helpful and positive thing.
Appropriate music at the bedside of the dying and of the dearly departed gives a beautiful, watery current for the emotions of folks still walking and breathing, so their emotions and certain memories can rise up and be released. It is a good thing. and so simple really now that I know how to do it. It is my honor to do it.
The beauty of the wake, the vigil over the dead body, is that it makes it real that your loved one is not in that body anymore. Then and only then is it possible for grieving loved ones to open to the possibility that your loved one is still loving you for eternity, regardless of the physical heart that no longer beats.
It is not the beating heart that brings love. Love just gets to flow through the beating heart for this brief moment in time. Then it is set free in such a profound way. I heartily recommend Shawna’s book, Spirit Singing, as a key educational tool for unlocking the power of your voice.