The Day the Music Stopped

Tahoe Morning Photo by Lena Rufus; The Day the Music Stopped @ LIFEISAPRETTYWORD.COM

My daughter's welcoming committee was small and intimate with quiet visits from close family as befits a gentle birth in the far north woods. With only light fanfare and no eagles, my little star was born. It was easy to write about the day the music started.

The other end of the spectrum, describing my daughter's end-of-life ceremony, has been my greatest emotional writing challenge. My inner critic, as wretched and resistant as ever, asks, "Why bother with this?" It's true, the hundreds of people in attendance have their memories of the occasion. Put it in writing, the muse insists, lest we forget. Share it. Let its message expand.  

The celebration was a cultural blend of Christian and Native American ceremony and burial. It took place on the Bad River Reservation in northern Wisconsin. As with many end-of-life events, it included singing, guitar, drum song, ceremonial dance, eulogy, photo boards, prayers, smudge smoke, many tears, stories, and hugs.

Words are powerful yet also limiting to capture the sacredness of that day, how it is etched on the retina of my soul, to honor all it meant to me and all who loved her. My stream of thought in this recounting works best in short phrases rather than a longer narrative and are helpful when I'm gasping for breath. 


The Day The Music Stopped

it's the eagles circling, waiting
watching us weep and howl
witnessing our nightmare
patient and constant as the spiraling smoke
of the fire keeper's embers rising
ever rising to the nothingness of gray sky

it's the eagles watching, circling
waiting while the mourners queue around
inside the community hall where she lies dead
and then cluster to one side sharing soft words  
shaky hands wrapping paper coffee cups
warming slowly but not grasping
what is happening this day

it's the eagles circling, waiting
listening to drum song steadying and filling
our empty hearts with grief's weight
and then the women circle the drum
hands join and swing forward and back
our slow steps touching and respecting
and trusting our Earth Mother in all things 

it's the eagles circling, watching
floating on our collective sigh that holds
aloft the primal fullness of this moment
and I hear her speak, "look at their faces"
my heart raises my eyes to these
mothers and daughters and sisters
humming, swaying, breathing for my daughter
for themselves, for forgotten and found love
for the place where death and birth meet

it's the eagles watching, circling
lifting our dejection at this new and brutal truth
we disburse into hugs as I wonder where m'girl is
the eagles know my hallucination of her
round and beaming face in a soaring current
of unbridled and vivid energy spinning round
and around that great hall to become like they are
she's practicing and will be ready
for tomorrow's journey home is coming quick

it's the eagles circling, gliding
waiting all through the wakeful night
with her aunties preparing the massive feast
and they listen to the grating of metal chairs aligned
in half circles, row after gray row for hundreds
facing the respite of soft chairs for the exhausted
the eagles watch us watching time stand still
through song and tribute and honor as
the ceremony of our love lifts them even higher 

it's the eagles that watch and circle
and lead our processional down the lane
past ancient oaks and ancestors
as if we couldn't find our way to that opening
the grave digger's fire blackened these last days
and burned through winter's thick frost

it's the eagles who wait and understand
and listen as we do, as she does, to the elder's retelling
in native tongue, the Anishinaabe story of how the world began
these ancient words brace my faltering knees
when all I can think is to crawl in the satiny folds
of her fine coffin hovering over that dark hole

now the eagles stretch their wings wide, spiraling
encouraging the elder's wisdom to turn and walk
to not ground her here by looking back
to let her traveling song carry her home
my arms powerless to hold her any longer
stiffly toss the tobacco in surrender
to the noble spirits eager to take up their burden 

miigwech bald eagles, for your presence and power
see her feather, your feather, held close to her heart
thank you for taking our girl where we cannot
where the sage smoke rises beyond reach
and carries her spirit, Ogitchidakwe, to you

blog post image;

For me, occasionally reliving painful moments, in small doses, can bring clarity and understanding inside the raw fear of remembering.

Peace and love to you dear readers. Comments are welcome below.  


Monica Sword

Monica Sword is an aspiring author and artist living a deeply heartfelt life. Following the early death of three family members, including her daughter, she struggled to balance home and work life. Once she discovered how to apply her conscientious and high-achieving personality to honor her passions, be mindful of her emotional reactions and focus on self-care, she developed a creative mindset that produces her most meaningful life work. On her website,, Monica inspires and encourages others to honor their heart and soul in mindful ways.