Thursday, November 7, 2013

Death's Dominion and The Consolation of Country Gospel

After two weeks of fierce struggle against death's cold hand, my grandmother passed away late last night.  She was by far the kindest soul I have ever known in this world, someone who just radiated love and goodwill.  Despite that, she was also pretty damn stubborn, and I knew that Death would have to work extra hard to claim her.

So many people are trying to tell me that she is in a better place, but I am having a hard time believing it.  Even the most religiously devout fight death to the last; I am not sure anyone has absolute confidence in the afterlife.  There is a burning animal instinct in us to stay alive that overpowers the stories we try to tell ourselves about salvation and eternal life.

But I will try to respect my grandma by thinking of her in that "better place," no matter how deeply I doubt it.  I've been listening to some country gospel music for comfort, and even if I don't actually feel the old time religion in my soul, this music is a powerful salve.  During the times when I hope there is something else, these are the songs that stoke my faint faith when confronted with the death of someone I love:

"Wayfaring Stranger," Neko Case
Her voice is so powerful, one of the greatest that we have, and she really wraps it around this gospel chestnut.

"Lord, I'm Ready to Go Home," The Louvin Brothers
The Louvin Brothers' harmonies were never so erie and spine-tingling as on this song, where an old man readies himself for death.

"Dust on Mother's Bible," Buck Owens
Buck's warm voice wrings about as much pathos as he can from this song about the dusty Bible that remains once his mother is gone.

"I Saw the Light," Hank Williams
It's hard to buy a song about leaving sin for the straight and narrow when it comes out of the mouth of a horse tranquilizer popper who died in the back of a car on a way to a show.  Then again, it makes the conversion narrative that much more believable.

"Can The Circle Be Unbroken," The Carter Family
Might as well go all the way back to the original country music group.  This song about a funeral has one of the most hopeful, uplifting choruses of any song.  Even if I can't muster confidence that there's a "better world a waiting in the sky," it still moves me.

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