Pamela was my first love. I was two and a bit when she was born. We were “the girls” long after Mike and Carol, “the little ones”, came along. We did the same activities, partly because there weren’t that many things to do in rural Nova Scotia. There was school, and there was church where there was Junior Choir. But it was hard to be the little sister when you had to be 7 to get into junior choir. Meanwhile, Pammie admired the soloists who sang in church, who were mostly older women. She liked how they sang “bumpy”. I thought their vibrato meant that they weren’t really able to hit the notes right, but she admired and aspired to it – and eventually achieved a beautiful vibrato herself.
At one point, I think our mother figured out that Pamela needed to be at least my equal in music, despite my headstart on piano lessons, and so one famous Christmas, we both got guitars. We learned the popular songs and sang in harmony: The Monkees. Joni Mitchell. Gordon Lightfoot. “Leaving on a jet plane.” Pamela also learned to play flute in the school band.
After I left home, our paths diverged for a while. But a few years later, we decided to live together in Montreal. We wanted to share what we’d learned with each other. We had both been to Africa, and she followed me into the international development /social justice scene, and in turn she introduced me to co-counselling. That was life-changing, learning to be both counsellor and client in a healing relationship.
Meanwhile, through busking and voice lessons and university music courses, she was finding out that what she really wanted to do was sing, but how do you make a living from that when the role models are famous and intensely talented people who perform on the radio and travel the world giving concerts? She also needed to develop her independence from me and find her own place in the world. Then she discovered music therapy. It took her to the west coast for training, and she stayed there for 15 years. Eventually there was a relationship that ended badly, and she fled for “home,” to Nova Scotia, to start again from square one, financially, emotionally, and to rebuild her self-esteem. A year later she moved to Perth and then Ottawa to redevelop her music therapy credentials. Meanwhile she had to comply with new regulations requiring music therapists in Ontario to become Registered Psychotherapists. It took years, but eventually she overcame bankruptcy and being on welfare. That was huge, a great worldly accomplishment for anyone. She did all that, and finally built a viable business for herself.
But it was also an achievement in personal healing, which took her deep into examining her emotional and behavioural patterns and their origins, whether personal or family or cultural. And she went deeper than that, and explored the more subtle causes and patterns that underlie our outer experience, and how to heal at that level. Her quest opened her up spiritually and psychically, enabling her to navigate realms where few people travel. The “Deep Soul” in her business name – Deep Soul Singing – reflects that quest. And she found soulmates on that journey.
But the spiritual development didn’t make it easier to develop a viable therapy practice. She was torn between the employability of being a therapist and a deeper calling to be a spiritual healer. As her web designer, we had this conversation regularly. And as a result she has two websites. So she was really drawn to learning GIM, guided imagery with music, which is a recognized music therapy modality that can go deep into the spiritual, and she was flying back from a GIM training in BC when her cancer made itself known and she landed in hospital.
Pam’s rich inner world translated into creating music, whether singing or composing. She was able to sing in choirs of the calibre of the Cantata Singers, and if you think it’s wonderful to listen to, for the singer the experience is at another order of magnitude.
But composing! That takes one to yet another dimension. I knew she’d written and performed her own songs over the years, and had sometimes put other people’s poems to music in the manner of German Lieder, which she loved. Last April, right here, accompanied by piano and clarinet, she sang songs she had written based on text by her old friend Mory Ghomshei, who is a poet in the Sufi tradition. Her sermon for the occasion was titled “Inside the mind of the composer” and she said,
“Never give up on the power of your emotions, and know that the struggle to communicate your inner world is something of value, and the universe will respond.”
We hoped it was the beginning of a new, exuberant direction for her.
And now, as I work away at emptying her apartment, scattered through the handwritten notes she took on everything she read, and in file folders among reams of sheet music, are pages of staff paper, handwritten music, going back to 1980s and 90s. There are half-completed melodies without words, poems of her own, songs set to the words of others, and gems of completed songs, some of which are new to me. There are also kirtan chants, and Christian hymns and songs for children,
She turned her pain and experience into rich compost in which grew melodies.
But not just her own pain; Pamela dug deep into the collective pain, and truly understood that she was doing healing for more than just herself. This is a spiritual mystery that still defies scientific understanding, (although quantum physics is getting very close) but it is understood in various spiritual cultures, even in the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ redemption of the sins of the world, and also in the Tibetan Buddhist tonglen meditation for transmuting the suffering of the world into peace and love.
When Pamela was two, she was in the hospital for several days, at a time when parents were discouraged from visiting because it upset the children. She had felt abandoned, and later came to understand that the experience had not only affected her all through life, but has become recognized as a trauma experienced by a whole cohort of children. Last month, in the hospital after her stroke, she spoke of the “repatterning” or emotional healing that she was experiencing as she discovered that there was love all through the medical system. In fact, we were all impressed with the quality of care and compassion that she got from all the doctors, nurses and orderlies. She also spoke often of the love and support she was feeling from friends and relatives. That little child who had felt abandoned was getting healed.
So, there is healing even into death.
The timing of Pam’s death, just as she was coming into her own power, in a position to help and teach others, to create and shine, challenges my belief that everything happens for a reason, and probably yours, too. It challenges me to trust that there is a reason even if I cannot fathom it. Maybe there’s something greater that she had to do that I can’t see from here. Maybe, as the song says, we’ll understand it all “by and by”. Or perhaps the meaning is what I, what we, make of it. Perhaps her friends had to meet her family, and her family meet her friends, to know who Pamela was, and to know some other things, too. Perhaps we all needed to think about Pamela in a new light for a while. Perhaps the dissipation of her work to others….to Kathleen who is inspired to get back into music therapy, to Rebecca who has taken care of her clients, to Steve who feels called to her crystal singing bowls, to me who is discovering more about my sister as I plough through her stuff, to Chloe who will always remember her very special music teacher, to our sister Carol, watching from Calgary, who may yet learn to play that ukulele … and so on … perhaps the love and care she got from all of us, putting our hearts first and the details of our busy lives on the back burner, is a lesson for us all to learn.
And perhaps more broadly: to cherish each other despite and even because of our quirkiness and different kinds of beauty. Our uniqueness.
Some of us have been talking about the French word “apprivoiser” which usually gets translated into English as “to tame”, as in The Little Prince, or Le petit prince by Saint-Exupery. But we’re not satisfied with that translation. Apprivoiser to Saint-Exupery is more about cherishing the uniqueness of one another. And that is one theme that stays with me in this journey with my little sister Pammie. I’ll hand over to Valérie who will read the original French version of that part of Le petit prince. The English translation is in your program. Thank you.