The songs are passed back and forth via text – Spotify links or YouTube clips – each one a glimpse into the very insides of who we are at the moment. Sometimes the songs are accompanied by a few words. “This. Right now.” or “Hiding here.” For my friends and me, songs do more than fill the air.
Songs are our soundtrack. I’ve even confessed to walking around with my phone playing tunes in my pocket, so that my days can have theme music.
And then I texted, “I made a playlist. It’s for my funeral.”
Until a defining moment a year ago, the thought had never really crossed my mind – that I would really care about what was played on the day my life would be celebrated by whoever saw fit to give it much mind. Oh, there is a particular ballad by Stevie Wonder that I’ve carried in my soul like a charm since discovering it on an album – one that then joined the likes of Elton John and Dan Fogelberg on the turntable in the room of my youth. The years were dark then, with a dad hiding away in bottles of vodka and pills, a longing-for-escape mom who tried to take her own life, and a teenage girl searching for anything that felt like unshame. None of it was discussed, nothing made known, in an effort to honor the family name. And so I would tuck into my room and listen to the song over and over again with promised land wishes.
People hand in hand
Have I lived to see the milk and honey land?
Where hate’s a dream and love forever stands
Or is this a vision in my mind?
When my dad passed away, I selected his songs. There was the one about a chair now empty and a song about God remaining unchanged when everything else shifts and shuffles. They were songs about him. But they weren’t his songs.
When my mom passed away, I selected her songs. The days had grown brighter by then, and the music followed. There was a song about dwelling places and and one about God’s faithfulness and freedom. They were songs she liked to sing, but they weren’t her songs.
Neither dad nor mom were the inspiration behind the playlist, though. Rather, it was a double-kin cousin who was blunt and bold and fearless in her love – she was second mom and faithful protector to me. She traveled the world and loved cup after cup of strong coffee. She cussed too much and smoked until cancer crept deep into her lungs, and she kept fighting long after doctors said it would be her demise.
And I loved her. I sent this note to a friend on the day of her memorial a year ago.
“I’m going to a funeral today. My cousin’s. You have never heard of her. She never got married, never got anything more than an associates degree, worked for 25 years of her life as an office manager at a company you wouldn’t recognize. She was never famous, never rich, never did anything that folks might think changed the world.
“But she means the world to me. And I’d put her up against any big name with big ideas and big voice and big ego any day. She matters because she existed, because God whispered her name. And she whispered mine.”
Hymns that were beautiful were played at her memorial service. But then, a familiar voice echoed through crackling speakers. Elvis Presley. She adored Elvis, had collected every album and seen him in concert too many times to count. When “Love Me Tender” played in the chapel, eternity touched everyone inside.
She’s the reason the playlist exists. The song that was her soundtrack reminded me that I indeed have a soundtrack too – one that has grown through the years and keeps the pieces sewn when things feel undone. The songs on my playlist are the ones I would want others to listen to and smile and wish for promised lands and maybe even get a little taste of eternity.
Now, mind you, the playlist isn’t there just for a someday-down-the-road memorial service. In fact, given the opportunity I’d much rather have my funeral now so I could invite folks and hug them for a little too long and tell them how much they mean to me. Then we would eat cotton candy and have a picnic and dance the night away. That, to me, seems the best way to memorialize life. By living it.
And I don’t know if the playlist is yet complete. As long as there is breath in my days, there is always opportunity for more music to become part of the soundtrack. But these songs shall stay. These are the ones that make the list.
Yes, the Stevie Wonder song is there. And so are 14 others. Maybe I shouldn’t be sharing them now. Maybe it’s too soon. But then again, if the best way to memorialize life is by living it, maybe it’s time to clink glasses and sing. So, here are The Ones That Make the List. JuJu, thank you for the inspiration – I miss you like crazy.
And if you happen to receive an invitation from me to a picnic, please accept it. Cotton candy, hugs, and dancing await.
What songs would you include in your playlist? What songs are your soundtrack? I’d love to know – who knows, you may add something beautiful to mine.