Lullaby for a Friend

Every song has a story. But sometimes you don’t know the full story until the song itself shows you. Even if you wrote the song yourself.

Long plagued by stage fright when it comes to singing, I was preparing to do so for the first time in front of an audience for an evening of my own songs and stories. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of speaking to an audience; I love that part. It’s the singing that makes me feel vulnerable.

As I practiced and prepared, I kept picturing myself as the American Idol contestant who warbles embarrassingly off-key as the judges fidget. Every vulnerability I’d ever felt seemed to be right on the surface of my skin. Yet, as I was fending off my inner demons, I found a song forming in my mind that became a lifeline out of the turmoil. Actually, it felt more like a secret mantra; a mere five lines that gave me enormous comfort and calm.

One of my closest friends, who knew me well enough to realize how challenging this first public singing performance would feel for me, asked if she could fly out from her home in Boston to mine in Minneapolis to attend. “If it makes you more nervous, I won’t come,” she said. “Please come,” I replied.

The morning of the performance, I sang this new song for her. Simple, a capella. It was much too new to add to my set list, but I truly believed it had come to me so that I’d feel the confidence and courage I needed in order to sing for people that evening. What I didn’t know yet was that it would be several more years before I would realize the song’s true purpose: it was meant to be a lullaby for my friend.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time, we all assumed she would undergo treatment and put the disease behind her again. The day after she learned the diagnosis was terminal, she told me she’d had a sleepless night. She lay awake, she said, and envisioned every possible outcome— from the one where she would defy the odds and live to be 100 to the one where I would sing “Where the Angels Live” at her memorial service.

I came to see her when she returned home from the hospital for the last time and began hospice care. The time between her diagnosis and this visit was shorter than any of us would have liked. And that’s the biggest understatement I’ve ever made. But the time was also filled with heart-rending moments of grace, of touching poignancy, of riotous laughter, of honesty and, most of all, love.

She told me a few months before she died that she was “banking memories” for herself and for everyone she loved, consciously making time for moments together that would sustain her and the rest of us through her passing. She was filling the well, she said.

I did sing for her at her memorial service. And I brought my oldest child, her goddaughter, to sing with me. The song deserved harmonies. My ukulele was the simple accompaniment, though I was fairly certain that the people in the back of the church might not even hear it. The important part, I knew, was the voices.

I told the overflowing crowd of her family, friends and colleagues that we all had a job to do together. And then I shared the promise that I had made to her. The night before I left her for the last time, she had wanted to discuss her memorial service. I promised her again that I would sing, but told her that I also planned to ask everyone sing with me. In singing together, I’d said, we’d not only help ourselves begin to heal but our voices in unison would lift the song to the high heavens as a lullaby for her.

On a fall day that began with rain and ended with the sun peeking out from the clouds, in a quaint New England church, I kept my promise to my friend. And, in doing so, I realized the true purpose of my song. I felt it in my bones. I knew it in my heart. I heard it in all the voices that joined together to sing with my daughter and me. The well is deep; there is no limit to love.

∞ ∞ ∞

Where the Angels Live

Can you feel the space between heartbeat and breath?

Can you hear the pause between dying and death?

In the gentle silence between blessing and prayer

In the whispered sound between wind and air

That’s where the angels live

 | Lucy Mathews Heegaard © 2009 |



Click this link for the audio version of the narrative, if you’d like to hear the story told, rather than read it.

Though I recorded a version of “Where the Angels Live” in studio with full piano and guitar accompaniment, I felt it was important to also create the simple, spare lullaby version that my daughter and I sang at my friend’s memorial service. Recorded at home, I paired the song with nature photographs by J. Marion Brown in a video to honor the memory of my dear friend.

The Elizabeth Alling Sewall Endowment Fund was established at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to support research to help find a cure for breast cancer. If you’d like to learn more about this worthy cause, please visit this site, which also tells more about Elizabeth’s life.


9 Comments on “Lullaby for a Friend

  1. Thanks, Lucy, for once again telling a beautiful story about one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known. I was in the back of that church. We heard you and the uke just fine, and it was one of those goose bump moments.

    Amanda Hale, Lexington, KY

    • Thank you so much, Amanda. I remember meeting you after the service. That is, unless there was a large contingent from Lexington. If I recall correctly, you and your friend had worked with Elizabeth when she was in her consulting role. In any case, I so appreciate your nice note. And am so glad to know the tiny (but mighty) uke did the job that day. Heartfelt thanks for your kind words.

      • Yes, Diana and I did get to talk with you after the service. As far as I know, we were the only Lexingtonians there. I still miss Elizabeth every day, but feel so blessed to have had her in my life and to have gotten to share in honoring her memory that day. Keep writing and singing – you put a lot of beauty into the world.

        • So wonderful to connect again, Amanda. Sara and I were so touched by your comments that day and so moved that you and Diana came all the way from Lexington. I still feel Elizabeth’s presence so palpably in my life, for which I am so grateful. Yet, I miss her every day, too. Thanks so much for your encouragement!

  2. Well, my sweet friend, you have done it again. Julie’s photos “harmonize” so perfectly with you and Sara. And Elizabeth’s spirit is smiling wide, I’m sure. How is that that the things that frighten us and/or break our hearts make us available to the muse in such powerful ways. Honored to know you. Blessed to witness your continued blooming….

    • Blessed to have you in my world, Barbara! You have been beside me through so much of my journey through singing and writing that I know you understand it fully. And Elizabeth “knew” you well, even though the two of you never met, because she heard me detailing my work with you often. Likewise, you “know” Elizabeth and her spirit. So grateful, too, that you connected me to Julie, which resulted in this pairing of her images with the song. Grateful!

  3. This is beautiful and I’m sorry to have missed hearing it sung in person. I have shared your song and words to another family today who lost their wife, mother, and friend to breast cancer a couple of weeks ago. The similarities between Elizabeth and Marjie are uncanny. I hope they will find some peace in your lovely voice and meaningful words. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much. I appreciate your kind words about the song. I am very touched when people share it with others. Wishing peace and comfort to all who are suffering grief and loss.

  4. Pingback: A Time Breeze | West Chop Sunday Service August 11, 2002 | Stories @StudioLu

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