I guess the thing you need to know for this particular event to make sense, is in that long ago when the doctors gave my mother three months to live, two things happened simultaneously; she made up her mind to make them out to be 'liars', and she became very obsessed with 'her songs'. Referring to them as 'her songs' did not mean she wrote them, or had any legal claim, they were just songs you never heard anyone else sing anymore since many pre-dated radio even. Some were jaunty little ditties, others were ballads, and some were plain silly but fun to sing, and some almost operatic. Most were in English, but a few were Gaelic. As she grew weaker, she became convinced that with her passing, they (the songs) would die too, as no one would remember them, even though us kids had heard them our entire lives.
I'm one of eight kids, why she decided I was the one that had to learn them all, is beyond me. The others were quite musical, as were our parents. They all had that gift that brings life into music so that it transcends being just notes and rhythm. My three sisters were all sopranos, like my mother, and three of the boys tenors. My oldest brother had real range though - he could either hit notes that belonged in the basement, or soar as high as any soprano. Me? Well, I was at best a low alto, who paled so much by comparison I may as well have sung in the key of Z.
Still, it was me Mom wanted to teach them to, and if that's what she wanted that's what was going to happen, and so I sung. On days Mom felt up to it we had duets, and if it was a really good day, she'd accompany us on the piano. On bad days, when there was just too much pain, she'd have me sit by her bed and sing, telling me when I missed a note, or didn't get a word exactly right. It was all so very important to her, which made it important to me.
My mother made it past the three months, and although she never got 'better', she simply refused to let go just yet - or to let me stop singing. Even after I left home at 16, and would manage to call her from a payphone, she'd ask me to sing her this song or that. Funny thing about that - there I'd be standing there using a wall mounted payphone (one without a booth) singing to her, usually with tears creeping down my cheeks, and almost without fail someone would 'tip' me. Never a lot, but a coin or two that would let me talk a few minutes more. Poor Mama in those pre-caller ID days had no clue her little girl was living on the streets, she thought I was living with a friend. A lie spun by my father that I allowed to stand. Sometimes lies need to be. But enough on that.
Mama passed in 1986, by then I was married with a son and another baby on the way. I wasn't even showing yet. I had managed to forge an uneasy alliance with my father over the decades, just so I could see my Mom in the last years of her life, and when ever we would visit, that woman would have me sing a song or two, her pick. I always felt a bit like I was taking a pop quiz! But no one was more shocked than I when at her funeral my dad asked me to sing for her 'one last time', as he always referred to my attempts as 'necessary noise that made my Mother happy'.
I sang Maidin I Mbeara (Oh Danny Boy in Gaelic), the way she had taught me to, not out of fear that it would be forgotten, but because it was my father's favorite song, and when they were courting, she had learned the Irish words as a surprise for him. (He only sang it in English - unable to roll his Rs or affect a brogue.) But, as her illness took hold, she could no longer sustain the notes, and so it had been a very long time since it had been heard in the family. She had thought that perhaps, after she had gone, it might be a reminder for my father that he had and always would be loved by her, if I would just sing it once in awhile when around him. When he asked, I thought I heard my Mom tell me to sing that song, I'd almost swear I did. Perhaps a trick of the wind, or my emotions playing up, accented by the others' grief. I began to sing, and I closed my eyes, as everyone began to stare at me. I could hear my Mother's high, clear soprano, as it was before the illness, encouraging my voice to soar with hers, rounding out the notes I could never quite reach before. When I finished, those who were staring before, were murmuring, whispering to each other, "Did you see that?" or "My God she sounded like her Mother!" My father just would not stop staring at me or in my direction.
At the reception I finally worked up my nerve and asked my oldest sisters (the twins), "See what?"
I've no explanation for their answer, but they swore they saw Mama standing next to me, singing right along.