Intimate Privilege: A Writer Wednesday Post

September 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Irene in Essays


To The Upper Room Toward the Upper Room, photo & all text © Irene O’Garden, 2014

To listen to this post, please click here: Intimate Privilege

Ever since I first learned to wash dishes and endure long car rides with siblings, I have dearly loved singing harmony. But I can’t join a conventional singing group. John and I travel so much that I would miss many rehearsals.

Last fall, however, I saw a request for singers. A “Threshold Choir” was forming locally, requiring only one rehearsal a month.  What sent intuition’s shiver up my spine, however, was the choir’s destination and purpose: when invited, to offer the simple gift of song at the bedsides of those who are dying. Those on The Threshold.

The songs are simple, non-denominational, just what you might want on your way out: “You’ve been loved, deeply loved,” goes one. Images of light, spirit and comfort.

I know that one reason I was prompted to this service was my spontaneous discovery years ago that when Alzheimer’s had carried off all my mother’s words, we were still able to sing together. How her face beamed. Mine, too, I’m sure.

After several months of practice, our small group has now begun singing at bedsides. Suffice it to say, it is an intimate privilege, indeed.

I did not intend to post about it, but changed my mind when I received a link this week to an NPR story about Threshold Choirs.  Over a hundred have formed across North America since Kate Munger created the first one in 2000. It occurred to me you may have a loved one who might benefit from this service. Or you might feel the same shiver I did when learning about them, and be drawn, as was I, to a bit of midwifery toward the next world, singing lullabies to lives.


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  • darrie

    what a beautiful beautiful idea and service to others… thanks for sharing this, Irene. I will never be able to join such a choir (harmony, even melody, is not my forte) but when the time comes I will investigate for mom (so far 94 and still sound)… it is now in my armamentarium…
    xoxo to you and John. — darrie

    • IreneOGarden

      Humble thanks, Darrie– it’s my honor to be part of it, and I do hope your mother (and all of us!) may someday benefit–love to you as well!

  • Scott

    It is wonderful to know that THRESHOLD CHOIRS exist. Harmonizing vibrations sustain continuity as we are letting go of the old songs and learning new ones.

    • IreneOGarden

      Love the idea of us learning new songs as we cross the threshold, Scott–heaven knows you you’ve made worlds of harmony on this side!

  • Laura

    so moving I had no idea..truly the song of angels. An essay even from Irene doesn’t get more stunning than this…

    • IreneOGarden

      It is a blessing, indeed, dear Laura–as always, thanks for your lyrical words–

  • Cathy Gonick

    What a wonderful idea. I once participated in an impromptu family choir that formed around the bed of their dying mother (a family friend), who could no longer talk but could still sing. This was great for everyone there, of course.

    • IreneOGarden

      It comes so naturally, doesn’t it, Cathy?How lucky you were there and sensitive to the moment–

  • Terri P

    Must run in the family. I love to sing harmony too. What a great idea!

    • IreneOGarden

      Thanks, Terri–wishing you many happy notes!

  • Paul

    What a gift. Thank you. I intend to look into it.

    • IreneOGarden

      You are welcome, dear Paul–The Threshold Choir website tells you where existing choirs are, but there are always new ones in the making–Blessings–

  • ceblain

    My day was made so much brighter and better from reading this today. Thank you.

    • IreneOGarden

      Thanks very much, Cynthia–you are most welcome.

  • Susan Graves

    Lovely lady — “intimate privilege” is truly what it is. Beautiful words.

    Threshold Choir is blessed to have you at bedsides and in our circle. It has been a true gift to sing with you at a bedside. Your presence is so graceful.

    Thank you for writing about us.

    For your readers: here is a link to the Hudson Valley page: For anyone in NYC: For a list of our many other chapters:

    We are honored to have you in our growing community.

    Thank you, and see you soon!

    With love, Susan

    • IreneOGarden

      Thanks so much, Susan– it is my honor and my pleasure!

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