Sunday, November 14, 2010

Circle Song

It's Sunday here. I'm naming it because I seem to live more and more off the calendar these days and every so often need to look up what day of the week it is. Since nothing seems to unfold in a straight line any more, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Time should be all a-muddle, too? 

On Wednesday evening we received the shocking news that our singing friend Kate had collapsed in Australia after a brain aneurysm and been admitted to hospital for emergency surgery. She subsequently suffered two heart attacks. On Friday morning, doctors pronounced her brain dead. Yesterday morning, medical staff switched off her life support system. Can this really have happened? I'm finding it difficult to get my head around. . . On Wednesday morning, Kate rose lightly to a day like any other and forty-eight hours later, her entire world had crashed to the ground. 

What can I - what can anyone - possibly say? After all, this is not reportage; this is flesh and blood and love and loss and rage and grief and ache. There are people hurting - three children have lost their Mother, one has lost his step-mother. Anything I say is going to come out thin and inadequate. 

'Stand in the heart. Stand in the heart. . . ' has become my mantra in recent months. I find myself repeating the words, over and over again, sometimes silently and sometimes out loud. The urgency of their message reverberates in my chest cavity.  

Last night, during a power outage, I lit a grove of candles and spent a few hours at my desk in my safe lap of a house, wandering through iPhoto libraries in search of mandala images for Kate and her family. 


For the past fifteen years, a group of five of us has met on a regular basis to sing a cappella - there have been times when we've met twice a week (if, for example, a festival was on the horizon) but mostly we'd gather weekly or fortnightly. Fortified by companionship, food and wine, we talked a fair bit (rather a lot, actually) but we sang a lot, too. Over fifteen years we gathered up a rich repertoire of songs and shared life stories. Way back when, we named ourselves As Is - these two words/four letters seemed enough to describe who we were; no bells or whistles or fancy shenanigans. Just us, as is; women who loved - still love - to sing.   

Kate was one of our original five, as was our dear and splendid friend Chrissie who died last December after a four-year wrestle with cancer; both lived with their hearts wide-open and wings spread wide. They left this world in full flight. 

Not long after we all met in the early 1990s, Pam wrote a song about the shared journey of friendship. Such young voices we had back then. . .  

I don't know what else to say. Kate, Chrissie - most excellent women - this is a song you know well (Kate, alto; Chrissie, soprano). We embrace you. 

In the circle of joy, in the circle of tears
where we've shared our journey, our laughter, our fears
let's acknowledge what we gave and what we're receiving
for the gifts will live on past our time of leaving.

And now as we journey from our meeting place
not knowing the future or the turnings we face
we go out in boldness and courage that we will be
true to our calling to be all we can be, will be true
to our calling to be all we can be.

Pam Morrison 
Dunedin, 1995

My daughter Ali's Recoleta (Buenos Aires) angel  
Acrylic on board c. 2006



  1. It comes as such a shock when a friend and loved one dies suddenly. So sad.

    It's extraordinary to listen to the voices here. to see your daughter's art work and o think yet again how much the creativity helps us on our journey. Thank you Claire.

  2. All we can be, dear Claire. I'm sorry for your loss--raw, throat-closing grief--but throats open: that singing circle . . .

  3. Keep well, dear Claire.
    Stand in your heart, stand in your heart, stand in your heart. And you can stand in mine as well - I'm thinking of you.

  4. The beauty of the words and the voices, the meaningful circles. I am so sorry for this loss, for these days of not knowing where to put our feet, except to stand in our hearts, no other ground seems steady enough. Your boats, hugging one another as you arranged them, I think of your connection themes and my wish is that they give you something additional to hold onto in these uncertainties. Love to you, Marylinn

  5. Dear Elisabeth - it's been a terrible shock, yes. We are so unprepared for death in our culture, too - our own, and our loved ones. Grief arrives as a complex and untidy bundle of emotions.

    Doing something creative - gardening, making, baking, writing, singing, painting, and speaking, too - definitely helps. As does roaring, stomping and hollering.

    Thank you, as always, Elisabeth (and I am so pleased to know your brace is off and might even be turned into sculpture! You have been very stoical.) L, C

  6. Dear Mim - thank you. Throats open, they do. It's interesting that the throat is the place grief lodges, isn't it? Its presence there affects our breathing which must be why. One cannot easily wriggle away or dismiss it then. And the singing circle. . . there is no beginning and no end, not really. Love, Claire xo

  7. Dear, generous Rachel - thank you for making room and for your loving thoughts. Whew. xo

  8. Ah, dear Marylinn, such circular days these are. When all we thought we knew seems to be falling by the wayside, what is there to do but trust there is some higher wisdom at work?
    I do hope the words in Pam's song offer you reassurance, too. It does seem that the heart is where we're being called to stand. Our heads are less dependable, I think. Both are being given a shake-up. . . but all will ultimately be well. Arm in arm we go. L, C x