His grandmother had never learnt English, and all conversations at home were in the indigenous language. At home, he also learnt another language, the language of song. He was one of the guitar players and could sing traditional songs in their language. It was important to pass on his culture and he became a teacher, passing on his knowledge to the next generations. His ethos was full integration, two cultures living together in harmony. That’s how he raised his children, and to provide for them, he moved overseas in pursuit of a better income.
He missed his home and he craved being able to talk in his grandmother tongue. He would visit his cousins as often as he could. Grandmother’s rules applied and only their native language would be spoken in their home. He had to translate for his wife to understand the jokes and conversations. His family ended up in both countries, and during any reunion, the guitars would come out and the favourite songs would be sung together.
The songs kept him going during the first cancer. The treatments were rough, but he completed them, and they worked. Things were different with the second bout of cancer. Nothing went well. The cruellest thing of all was the cancer’s effect on his swallowing and voice. Two of the things he loved the most were taken away from him. He couldn’t eat his favourite foods, and he couldn’t sing his favourite songs. More and more bad news from the doctors. They told him time was short, that there were no treatments left. He told them he wanted to go home, that he wanted to be with his family for the end of his life. The team wasn’t sure if he was well enough to make the trip but prepared for it anyway.
He couldn’t sleep the night before the flight home, he was too excited. He didn’t sleep on the plane. There were various delays which meant he didn’t arrive at the hospice until late evening. He was pleasantly surprised by the staff greeting him in his language. The family visited and they celebrated his safe return. He was exhausted but the thrill of being together with his family in their home country kept him awake into the early hours of the next morning.
He met the rest of the medical team the next day, and they used more words from his language. They invited him to their singing practice scheduled for the following morning at 9.15 am. They all looked surprised when he turned up sitting in his wheelchair. The assembled staff was like a United Nations assembly. Though they were all of different ethnic origins to him, they were singing songs in his language. His family joined in the singing, and then he gave his critique. “A+ for effort, just need more practice with some of the songs. It’d be better with a guitar, I’ll get my daughter to play next time.”
They made him comfortable and kept things as simple as possible. He went home to his family after joining the following week’s singing practice, this time accompanied by guitar playing. The hospice held his bed for longer than usual, but his family looked after him well and he didn’t need to go back. Generations of family and old friends visited him with their music and laughter.
The pain worsened, and he was worried that he was about to die. He wanted to go back to the hospice, he trusted that they would make him more comfortable. His family attended the weekly singing practice and were encouraged to play their guitar and sing even more. Beautiful harmonies were heard from his room in the afternoon. His family surrounded him with love and the last thing he ever heard was the harmony of them singing to him, “The Lord’s Prayer.”