My father had 10 children, and my siblings and I represent as broad a spectrum of beliefs and opinions and political stances as you can possibly imagine. It was relatively easy for us to decide that we wanted the younger grandchildren to sing the Primary song "I Am a Child of God" as part of the memorial service. But coming to consensus on other music and words that would reflect Dad's rather eccentric life was a tricky dance.
Then I had a flash of inspiration. I had used the Beatles song "Blackbird" at a very low point in my novel Dispirited. My character Rich sings it as an act of faith at a moment that is literally and figuratively dark--and he eventually finds his way through his difficulties.
I chose that song very consciously when I wrote the book. For me, "Blackbird" has always been about rising up out of despair, of doing the best one can with what one is given, and of taking a leap of faith "into the light of the dark, black night." My father had loved the Beatles. It seemed a perfect choice for the teenage grandchildren to sing as a gift to their grandfather's memory.
I downloaded a choral arrangement of the song, which my genius husband and equally genius cousin, Sam Cardon, were able to simplify in light of our lack of available rehearsal time. The musical number ended up being the highlight of the funeral service for me. To hear those young, pure voices united in singing words of hope comforted me in a way that is difficult to express. The memory of their performance continues to light up the dark for me.
I'm home now, struggling to move on with my life even as I allow myself the space to mourn the loss of my father. Now, as I turn to my work in progress--a novel I'm almost finished revising--I realize that one of my characters loses her mother near the end of the story. I look forward to pouring my grief into the words that describe my character's loss; I can use my experience to make hers more real for my readers.
It seems I'll travel full circle as I do so--having used something from my writing to help deal with reality, then mining a painful reality to deepen the emotional effect of my writing. "Everything is copy," said Nora Ephron, and she was right. All of our life's experiences--joyful and painful--can add wisdom and meaning to the stories we tell, if we have the courage and faith to let them.
Paul McCartney was right, too. Grief has broken my wings, but I'll fly again.