Sunday October 22 was Reid’s birthday. The day of, I went to my parent’s house, and we celebrated with a nice meal and a little fall farm outing. The day before, though, I was out of sorts. Some years it hits me more than others. I turned to the one of the most significant avenues of healing over these last few years: music, sacred music in particular. I couldn’t shake the lyrics of one hymn, and so I dove into it headlong that afternoon and wrote a simple arrangement for ukulele and violin. I recorded it later with my composing software playback as the electronic sounding violin and me playing the ukulele. High tech recording, clearly.  The quality is terrible, but I’m sharing it below anyway because it somehow placated the unsettled feeling that hung over that weekend.

I’m also sharing the lyrics to the entire hymn. I pulled out three verses for this arrangement, but all five of them are rich, particularly in those moments when the darkness deepens.

Abide with Me

Lyrics by Henry Francis Lyte

1 Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

2 Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see.
O Lord who changes not, abide with me.

3 I need your presence every passing hour.
What but your grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like yourself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

4 I fear no foe with you at hand to bless,
though ills have weight, and tears their bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, your victory?
I triumph still, if you abide with me.

5 Hold now your Word before my closing eyes.
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

The 5 Weirdest Things I Associate with Grieving the Death of my Brother

Grief is super weird. And so is the month of October, at least for me.

On the one hand, the incredibly basic autumn-loving pumpkin-everything-consuming side of me has always been in love with the weather and the overall aesthetic. October is my late brother’s birthday month, which is always a strange mix of wistful and fond and missing him. There’s also a much darker side which is remembering October 2009 specifically.

My grandfather died in April 2009, followed by the one-two punch of my brother in 2009 at the age of 22. I went back to work almost right away after the funeral, a fast paced-job at a mega church. I kind of coasted on adrenaline for the next few months, and right about the time October hit I began to fall into a deep depression. Or maybe depression is the wrong word–probably it was just the normal grief I had been pushing aside final would not be held back any more.

At that point I hadn’t gotten any help or counseling and because of a number of factors that I won’t get into, there was no freedom or flexibility to start grieving then. I know there were people that cared about me, but in my day-to-day reality I found myself completely alone on the front lines of grief and despair. There are few things more isolating than walking through a sea of happy-clappy carrying a black hole inside. Plus, I wasn’t really on speaking terms with God by that point either, and which also scared me. October is when I went into survival mode, making every effort keep the darkness at bay long enough to drag myself to work.

Survival mode is ugly, and I found comfort in many unexpected places. I share this because some people imagine grief in a kind of one-size-fits all scene that belongs on a Hallmark channel movie where someone says “it’s cancer” while soft music plays. Grief is not that. And no one grieves the same. And people who grieve need the freedom to grieve in their own timeline. And you can’t put it on people who grieve to reach out to you for help, because half the time standing up and putting their pants on in the morning is the biggest victory of the day.
So buckle up…. we’re revisiting the pit that was the Autumn 2009, and it’s about to get weird.

5. My High School Musical Pandora Station

Yep. A far departure from my normal indie-folk playlist, the High School Musical station featured heavily Disney Channel stars like Hannah Montana, occasionally throwing in some classic Disney as well. It was just upbeat and soulless enough to be the perfect musical anesthetic to plug into my ears moments after arriving at work, and basically for any block of time that I did not need to interact with people.

4. The WB Show Angel

This was another extreme departure for me. I generally don’t like Sci-Fi or those monster/vampire shows. I think I watched the pilot because I like David Boreanaz from Bones, but something clicked, and I binged that show before binging was a thing. When I ran out of online episodes I bought DVD sets. I think there was something about a strong, protector figure who was unable to die that made me feel strangely safe in my tail-spin.

3. Hip Hop Dance

The temple of dance that was Studio 310 is much larger story, but signing up for hip hop through Montgomery County Recreation center led me to Studio 310 just over a month after my brother died. My dance background had been ballet as a child and teen, followed by tap and jazz in college, with a smattering of musical theater throughout. Hip hop loosened me up, empowered me, and connected me with an amazing community of strong women that would eventually become dear friends over the years.


2. Late Night Comedy

Jimmy Fallon, old school SNL, Chelsea Handler, the latter being another off-brand choice. Anything and everything that would make me laugh. In hindsight as a writer, I see this as a helpful and formative time, because while I don’t have aspirations to be a comedy writer, it reconnected me to a writerly side of my brain that had been dormant. I also understand more full how people find comedy in the midst of pain.

1. Tim Keller’s post- September 11 Sermon

One day around that time I went nuts and took off work and drove to New York to visit a dear friend. That trip was healing on many levels, but at one point she casually mentioned a sermon she had heard at her church by her pastor, Tim Keller. It was on something practical like money or friendships or I probably wouldn’t have listened to it, but after hearing it when I returned home I looked around his website for other sermons. It had been years since I had heard a sermon without an earpiece in my ear for work, and there was something genuine and thoughtful in his sermon that made me trust him. I found his sermon from the Sunday after Sept 11, and gave it a listen mostly out of curiosity, and the entire service was included, hymns, liturgy and all. Let’s be honest that was probably my gateway drug to becoming a Presbyterian, also a story for another time.
He preached on the story of Lazarus dying where Jesus famously weeps, just before raising Lazarus from the dead. He described Lazarus’s sister who falls at the feet of Jesus weeping and she says, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” And I recognized myself. If there were ever a character in the Bible I could relate to, it was the face-planted weeping one demanding to know where Jesus was when her brother died. And the glorious moments that came after is that she could look up into the face of Jesus to see him also weeping. Not asking why she doesn’t have it together. Not throwing “God works all things for good” in her face. But weeping at her pain.

And that’s why #1 on this list was a game changer.

Hanging with the Big Kids

I was in college when I first began to hear about academic medieval conferences. My medieval studies professor would sometimes disappear to present a paper, and then return with tales like how apparently Terry Jones (yes of Monty Python fame, but also medieval scholar) could drink them all under the table.

It’s been ten years since that wee undergrad listened to these tales over my heavily glossed Middle English Chaucer textbook, but I can now say that I have experienced my first taste of medievalist academia in the conference setting.

I traveled two weekends ago to Halifax Nova Scotia to attend the Atlantic Medievalists Association Conference. The line up of paper topics and presentations was a rich mix of art, music, literature and history, which made it not only a fascinating entrance into the medieval conference world but perfect professional development for my integrated humanities class.

Just the day before I left, I had taught on Gregorian chant, and the focus of the conference was the Salzinnes Antiphonal, a newly restored illuminated choir book of chant. The work itself was on display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and the opening evening the conference attendees (about 30-40 in total) got a tour of the exhibit guided by some of the very people who had led the restoration.

img_4076Attendees were a mix of post-docs, professors, students, chant scholars and musicologists, but all so kind and willing to chat with a mere high-school teacher with a master degree .

The next day there were four panels, each consisting of around three papers, basically a 20-minute lecture or presentation each. The topics ranged from female reading practices in the Middle Ages, the political implications of some Old French poetry (beautifully read aloud),  manuscript marginalia, Middle English poetry, and much to do with early sacred music.

By the end of the day my brain felt full, but pleasantly so. The day had been the academic equivalent of a multi-course meal. The conference culminated in the restored manuscript from the gallery being performed at the Basilica, the first time in many hundreds of years.


In addition to the conference, the other amazing aspect of the trip was getting to experience Nova Scotia with this gal, my cousin Jessica.


She is one of the strongest, remarkable people I have ever known and just the best in general. We have been planning international travel together since we were small kids, and this trip we finally made it happen. She explored on her own during the conference, and then we met up afterwards to take on the beautiful city of Halifax.

And find all the tasty foods.

Splendid weekend for a business trip, and an excellent first dip in the academic pond that is medieval conferences.