Last February, Tom Waffle died. He was my mom’s brother, making him my uncle, but since he had been a hermit for most of his life, I had never met him. As a result, when he died, I felt nothing. There were no feelings of loss or sadness because of the fact that a “Tom Waffle” and not exactly an “Uncle Tom” had died. I felt no connection to him and therefore did not understand what my mom or any of Uncle Tom’s loved ones were feeling. After all, I had never lost someone as close to me as a sibling.
That was until the understanding of such a loss was imparted to me through one of the most powerful sources in this world: music. Because of a specific episode following Uncle Tom’s death, I came to believe that music has the unique power to connect people through an amount of understanding which no other source can accomplish.
It happened after the funeral. Tom’s closest family members drove to the cemetery to watch his burial. The winter air was tough and biting. We stood on the frozen ground, waiting silently for the haggard cemetery worker to retrieve the burial dirt. My dad led solemn prayers in the meantime.
The worker finally indicated that he was ready to begin. Slowly, in the frigid air, came a clink and scuffle as the shovel pierced the frozen earth and softly covered the ashes box. It was that, sobbing, and nothing else but the silent cold. And then my brothers. I heard my brothers. Tom started first and then Mike joined him—singing—each in the Irish brogue which they could always mimic so well. They were singing The Parting Glass, solemnly, just loud enough to drown out the sobbing but soft enough for the clink to remain. And as I listened to their voices, my eyes uncontrollably began to water.
But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise and you should not,
I’ll gently rise and softly call, “Goodnight and joy be with you all.”
Suddenly, Tom began to sing with a louder, but still wavering, voice, and I cried harder when I realized why. Mike’s voice had dropped off, replaced by sniffles and sobs, and Tom, the oldest, instinctively covered for his younger brother.
The now streaming tears blurred my vision and dampened my cheeks. I didn’t know Uncle Tom any better, but the song my brothers were singing made me understand the impact his death had had. The words they sang and the way in which they sang them expressed nothing but love—love in the happy goodbye, love in Tom’s willingness to remain strong for Mike. This brotherly love was what my mother lost, and what I could never deal with losing. At that moment I finally felt something—an understanding of what Uncle Tom’s death meant to his loved ones and a connection to him because I understood. The music had done it for me.
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