Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oh, What Songs of the Heart by Joseph L. Townsend

Oh, What Songs of the Heart

Oh, what songs of the heart
We shall sing all the day,
When again we assemble at home,
When we meet ne'er to part
With the blest o'er the way,
There no more from our loved ones to roam!
When we meet ne'er to part,
Oh, what songs of the heart
We shall sing in our beautiful home.

Tho our rapture and bliss
There's no song can express,
We will shout, we will sing o'er and o'er,
As we greet with a kiss,
And with joy we caress
All our loved ones that passed on before;
As we greet with a kiss,
In our rapture and bliss,
All our love ones that passed on before.

Oh, the visions we'll see
In that home of the blest,
There's no word, there's no thought can impart,
But our rapture will be
All the soul can attest,
In the heavenly songs of the heart;
But our rapture will be
In the vision we'll see
Best expressed in the songs of the heart.

Oh, what songs we'll employ!
Oh, what welcome we'll hear!
When we kneel at our dear Savior's feet.
And the heart swells with joy
In embraces most dear
When our heavenly parents we meet!
Oh, what songs we'll employ
As the heart swells with joy,
When our heavenly parents we meet!
--Joseph L. Townsend

This seems to be a week of reexamining song lyrics. When I had heard or sung this song before, I always thought it was a nice song about the millennium--very much in the same vein as "Beautiful day of peace and rest...beautiful bright millennial day." Something along the lines of how great it'll be when Christ comes again and we won't have to deal with all the hassles of mortality anymore. When I got an email today asking me and my cousins to sing this song at Grandma's funeral, though, I read it with new eyes, and see that it's probably talking about a different ending to mortal woes. It really doesn't matter what the author intended, though. It's an excellent song to sing at a funeral, especially in these circumstances.

My Grandma, Helen Lela Valantine Stay, passed away today at 2:19 pm. She died peacefully, after a relatively quick decline, and had a few of her children there with her. I was there yesterday with Elizabeth to say my final goodbyes, though she was in a coma, and probably didn't know we were there. I last spoke with her on Wednesday of last week, when I went down for my weekly visit. I read her some Christmas cards, and sang some carols after doing the bills. Her visiting teacher stopped by with a strawberry milkshake and some cinnamon rolls (having dropped all pretense of trying to get Grandma to eat anything healthy, she brought some sort of fast food and strawberry milkshake at least once a week hoping that Grandma would eat anything at all).

We were very worried about Grandma last year when she was in and out of the hospital. She tried very hard to get well for Grandpa, and would often eat just to humor him after she lost her appetite. I think it surprised all of us when Grandpa's cancer suddenly returned and he died first. Grandma rallied at that point, and was the healthiest I'd seen her in months at the funeral and just after. I think that if she had been in the middle of family like that for the next few months, she may have found something to live for without Grandpa. There was no shortage of family that invited her to go live with them, or offered to come to California to take care of her, but one of Grandma's defining characteristics was the determination not to be a bother to anybody. I once joked that she would rather die than let somebody wait on her hand and foot -- and I soon realized that it was no joke -- she would rather die.

Grandpa's death was very hard on me, and came during a very chaotic month when it seemed like my life was about to fall apart. I really resisted the idea of Grandma dying so soon after, and would often leave her house and call my Mom for comfort and advice on the drive home. I finally realized, in October, that it wasn't my decision. Grandma was ready to go. This wasn't the way she wanted to live. She missed Grandpa, and spent most of her time being cared for by relative strangers. The most exciting thing that happened most days was watching an episode or two of Hogan's Heroes.

That's not to say that she didn't have some little pleasures. Sharon visited often, as did members of her ward. She liked to watch the sparrows and finches and doves and hummingbirds that came to her bird feeders. I planted some cheerful flowers in the back yard, and later, Sharon planted some more. She liked to listen to the books on tape that I brought from the library. And she loved to see Elizabeth.

She called Elizabeth her "little Kewpie doll" and was excited to see and hear about every new trick Elizabeth learned. Elizabeth, in turn, obligingly looked cute, and showed off her tricks by rolling over, sitting, pulling up on Grandma's shiny red walker, crawling under the foot of her recliner, and standing and walking along the edge of the couch till she could reach out and grab Grandma's foot and chew on her slipper. Most recently, she decided that Grandma's Life Alert necklace was the most wonderful thing in the world, and that she really wanted to grab it and push the button. She always brought a smile to Grandma's face, and always smiled for her. She loved to wave to Grandma as I held her up to see when Grandma was in bed.

Driving all the way to Grandma's and back every week was hard on Elizabeth. She didn't like sitting in the car, and she often couldn't eat or sleep well until we got home, but every time I thought about telling Grandma that yes, it had finally gotten too hard, I would think about how much those visits meant to all of us, and I'd reconsider.

I have been so blessed by having Helen for a Grandmother. She took me in when I was sad and lonely and at loose ends in 2002, and she took care of me until I could get out on my own again. She was a wonderful example of quiet strength and determination, and I found that she had an unexpected adventurous side too. Most of all, she was an example of Christian service -- and I have benefited my whole life from having a Dad who was taught at her knee. I also got from her, and from my dad following in her footsteps, a love of books and storytelling, and the ability to entertain small children in almost any situation.

I have also been blessed by the opportunity to be of service to her. I was telling her about Elder Holland's Conference talk on angels, and she said that I had been an angel taking care of her this last year or so. It is a great gift to be given the opportunity to give back something meaningful to someone who has given you so much. It taught me about the pure love of Christ and unconditional love. It let me be an example of charity to my daughter in her earliest days. It was an experience I'll never forget.

Once I came to terms with the fact that she was dying, even the process itself took on a kind of sad beauty. Grandma didn't seem sick or in pain, she just got weaker and weaker, quieter and quieter, until she was gone. I'm grateful that he kept her wits about her until the end. It would have been much harder to watch her mind go long before her body. She let go of everything material -- money didn't matter, food didn't matter, neither did any of her things -- all that mattered were the memories, and her house and her heart were full of those. I had wondered what on earth I could get her for Christmas since there wasn't a thing in the world that she wanted. I finally settled on a little toy seagull that flaps his wings in the wind to hang outside the living room window. He was absolutely worthless, but I think he would have brightened her day a little. I knew that the real gift was giving her as much time as I could justify, and doing things she couldn't do for herself anymore like sending out the Christmas cards, putting up the decorations, and singing some carols.

I know this is an odd post. It would have been nice to write a eulogy for her, but it has ended up being about me and my feelings about watching her die. I guess I needed to write this because I'm having a hard time knowing what to feel. Am I sad? Yes. I'll miss my Grandma, and I already miss my Grandpa. Am I happy? Yes. I know for a fact that this is what Grandma wanted. She gets to spend Christmas and her birthday with Grandpa (and the rest of eternity, too)! I know that she was at peace, and would want the rest of us to be as well. That's why she picked that song for her funeral. It's a happy song because she has gone ahead to the great family reunion in the sky, and she's rejoicing there tonight, and beckoning to the rest of us to follow in her footsteps so that we can join her there when our journeys are done too.


  1. How beautiful. Thank you Angel Karen.

  2. That was a beautiful sentiment. I am sorry to hear about your grandma. I know how much you loved her!!

  3. Reading this beautiful tribute to your grandma got harder and harder as I read down the page because it was more and more difficult to see through the tears. You did a lovely, sensitive job here and said it all very well. I know she is grateful that you are her grand daughter, and have been such an important part of her life.

    Thank you for sharing your feelings about her with the rest of us.

    Love, Kathey

  4. Thank you. I'm having a hard time with her death and it was good for me to hear what you had to say in your e-mail.

    Thank you for all of your service to her. I love you,



  5. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Karen. I love this song, as well. I heard this song in a new way when my uncle passed away and I think of him and will think of Grandma too, every time I sing it. Karen, you really don't know how much your relationship with Grandma and Grandpa means to all of us. It has helped me to have a greater love for Grandma and Grandpa, hearing about your experiences with them in the last several years. I cherish your words and will print your emails and save them because they tell us things we can share with our children about their Great-grandparents that they will not remember. I'm sure that all of us wish that we could have lived closer to grandma and grandpa and had a closer relationship with them. I know I do. Even though they are not my "real" grandparents, I love them just as if they were. That is because they always treated me as if I was one of their grandchildren and loved me just as much as anyone else in the family. Grandma always had a way of making me feel special and always told me how much she loved me and was so happy to see me, whenever we saw them. I knew she was sincere. There was no other way to be for Grandma. Thanks so much, Karen, for helping us have a written record of your sweet relationship with our beloved grandparents. It is a great blessing. :)
    Angi :)

  6. Angi is Angela Danielson, Steve Danielson's wife

  7. Here's the email Tim and Sharon sent out when Grandma died.

    Dear Family,

    Today at 2:19pm Grandma Stay passed away. She died peacefully and without any discomfort or pain. Right before she passed away, she opened her eyes and we gave her a kiss and told her how much she was loved. She is now in the arms of Grandpa, her parents, grandchildren that are already waiting for her and all of her extended family. What a blessing we have had to be raised, taught, and loved by her.

    We are still working out funeral arrangements and as soon as we have them finalized, we will let you know.


    Tim and Sharon

  8. That first black and white? is that your grandma? Back in the day? Holy Moly...she looks like an ol' time cinema queen....absolutely esqusite. Wow! She could have been a pin up for WWII. Lovely words.

  9. Karen,
    You have written a tribute to a woman you loved and used well words to portray your relationship with her.
    How we treat one another and get along with others is essentially what we are here to do. You chose the better part and both of you were blessed.
    In the end -- as all through life -- memories are really the only thing we have that is ours and will always be ours.
    Would you tell us more about those two pictures? How old was she in each?
    I loved your last line about the journey...