Yesterday I sang at a funeral. It wasn't anyone that I knew. It was just part of my duties as a member of the choir. I was nervous about it though - not the singing part - but because I didn't know how I would react and not being able to predict my own responses in any given situation is not something that I relish.
I wondered whether funerals are still sad if you don't know the deceased. Of course they are I thought but is that because of the loss or because of the occasion itself? The ending of life is immeasurably tragic no matter who has died and in what circumstances. But is it sad enough to prompt tears when you have no emotional investment? This was my real concern. Would I cry when I should have been singing?
Well I did cry. Not much, more of a sniffle really than a full blown weep but enough that it was discernible to those around me. I wasn't alone. I noticed many of my fellow choristers fighting to maintain their composure. When the widower spoke about his lifelong partnership with his wife it was deeply moving even though I had never seen him before let alone known his wife. As his voice cracked my heart went out to him. I put myself in his shoes, imagining how it would be if someone that I loved died. And then I was sad. I just couldn't help it.
I tried to distract myself so that I could focus on the job in hand. I counted the panes of glass in the huge, arched windows and examined the freeze above the altar in microscopic detail until it occurred to me that casting my gaze about the church might look disrespectful. So then I tried to think about something else. I had a go at planning the next chapter of my book but I couldn't concentrate and my mind kept bringing my ears back to listen.
But I had to control my emotions not least because it is almost impossible to sing when you want to cry. Your breathing goes to pot and you can't control the pitch of your voice. I have no idea how those poor women on talent shows sing their final piece when they know they have been eliminated. It's more difficult than you can ever imagine. I had to mime to a couple of verses of the hymns whilst I dug my nails into the backs of my hands in an effort to stem the flow but where it really mattered in the choir's music I was able to play my part in making the ceremony a fitting tribute to an apparently much missed woman.
Overall I'd say it could have been much, much worse but I was glad when we had finally processed out of the church and into the privacy of the choir room. Everyone let out a huge sigh and the pressure lifted. And now I know for sure something that I already suspected. Funerals are sad no matter what. But I cry at strangers' weddings too. That's just the kind of girl that I am!