I’ve edited and somewhat expanded my eulogy of Oct 12, adding photos and links where appropriate. – HH
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 our father was the minister, and it had a Junior Choir. You had to be 7 years old to get into Junior Choir. Oh, it was hard to be the little sister then, and only 5. She learned the songs from me anyway.
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 it and aspired to it – and eventually achieved a beautiful vibrato of her own.
At one point, our mother must have figured out that Pamela needed to be at least my equal in music, despite my headstart on piano lessons and everything else, 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.
Six years after I left home, 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. It was life-changing, to learn to be both counsellor and client in a healing relationship.
Eventually, we found different flatmates and followed different interests. Through busking and voice lessons and university music courses, Pamela was finding out that what she really loved to do was sing. Here’s the recording of a classical concert she performed in 1989.
But finding a path to a professional singing career was a source of some frustration for her. Then she discovered music therapy, which combined her interests in music and helping people. It took her to Capilano College in North Vancouver, and she stayed on the west coast for 15 years, living on the lower mainland and Salt Spring Island, and acquiring godchildren and step-children. She sang in choirs, founded choirs, performed solo and with bands, did some music therapy, had some health problems, and settled down to a busy family life for a few years.
Eventually that relationship ended badly, and she fled for “home” with her little dog Winnie to Nova Scotia, to start again from square one financially, emotionally, and to rebuild her self-esteem. We were glad to have her around for a while. She now had a nephew, for one thing. And she looked hard for ways to develop her career.
But music therapy was a new profession in Nova Scotia, and Pam didn’t yet have the confidence and experience to make it work there.
So she moved to Perth where Nicola Oddy had an established music therapy practice and was able to mentor others to gain their Accreditation. Along the way, new regulations came along requiring music therapists in Ontario to also become Registered Psychotherapists. It took her years, and a lot of determination. Eventually she overcame all the obstacles and finally built herself a viable practice in Ottawa – and that would be a huge worldly achievement for anyone.
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 familial 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 expanded her 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.
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.) She was doing sound healing with singing bowls and voice, as well as evolving her own style of energy healing. Therefore she had two websites, although she dreamed of uniting the two in a way that was meaningful to her and acceptable to the regulators as well as the general public.
And so she was drawn to becoming qualified in Guided Imagery with Music (GIM), a recognized music therapy modality that explores the subconscious mind and can be deeply spiritual. She was flying back from a GIM training in BC when her cancer made itself known and she landed in hospital. (Read more about her final illness.)
Pam’s rich inner world translated into creating music, whether singing or composing. She was usually in a high-calibre chamber choir: the Vivaldi Choir in Vancouver, the Camerata Singers in Halifax, the Cantata Singers in Ottawa, and also earned a little money as a section leader in church choirs.
Her creative juices, however, were truly released in composing. She’d written and performed her own songs over the years, sometimes putting other people’s poems to music in the manner of German Lieder, which she loved. In April 2019, in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ottawa (UUFO) where her Memorial Service was held, she presented two such pieces she had written. You can see and hear on this website (Hearts are made for Sweethearts and Come dance with me) . Her talk for the occasion was titled “Inside the mind of the composer”, where 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.”Pamela Holm, April 2019
That presentation was very significant for Pam. We talked about it a lot on the phone, hoping that it was the beginning of a new direction for her – to present her compositions with other talented musicians, and take her music to a new level.
As I emptied her apartment after her death, I found treasures scattered through the handwritten notes she took on everything she read, and among reams and volumes of other people’s sheet music: pages of handwritten songs going back to 1980s and 90s, computer-generated sheet music from later eras, songsheets with her own songs and chants from group events, and the most precious gems: a few cassettes, CDs and SD cards with recordings of Pamela singing her own songs. I’ve been digitizing and compiling them on this website. They range from folk to jazz to classical-style to kirtan (Indian sacred chant). See the menu above to explore what is there so far.
But not just her own pain; Pamela dug deep into the collective pain, and truly felt that she was doing healing for more than just herself. If you doubt the possibility of that, because it is a spiritual mystery that still defies scientific understanding (although quantum physics is getting closer with concepts such as quantum entanglement), keep in mind that it is recognized in various spiritual cultures, for example the Tibetan Buddhist tonglen meditation for transmuting the suffering of the world into peace and love, and even the mainstream Christian doctrine of Jesus’ redemption of the sins of the world.
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, and also learned to trust the doctors. (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. She was surrounded with love. That little child who had felt abandoned was getting healed, and she believed that the cohort who shared her childhood experience would also benefit.
So, there is healing even as we journey 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, is enough to challenge my belief that everything happens for a reason. 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 learn 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 discovering more about my sister as I plough through all her stuff, to Chloe who will always remember her very special music teacher, to our sister Carol, watching from Calgary [on livestream], 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. To use the French word that Saint-Exupery chose in The Little Prince, (Le petit prince) : “apprivoiser”. It usually gets translated into English as “to tame”, but 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, my first love.
Let us cherish each other for our uniqueness.