She danced at her beloved’s funeral because of Easter

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 4, 2012

The empty cross atop Cochrane Alliance Church rises as a reminder of Jesus’ resurrection, pointing to hope beyond the grave, cause for dancing. Photo by Warren Harbeck

She was dancing! At her husband’s funeral! Right there, behind his casket, during the closing hymn!

But let me start from the beginning.

Sylvia Wylie, a spry white-haired 77-year-old farm gal from Saskatchewan, met her sweetheart, Peter, when she was 16 and married him at 17.

Peter Wylie would have turned 82 April 1, had he not lost his 16-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Their whole married life, they loved to dance – ballroom, square, you name it. And other dancers are quick to praise how good they were on their feet.

When, 11 years ago, Peter’s worsening dementia prompted his move to Cochrane’s Bethany Care Centre, their romance and passion for dancing did not diminish.

I still recall the moment six years ago when I sensed just how alive their romance truly was. I was sitting next to Sylvia at a church pancake breakfast when she looked at her watch and began to get up from the table. She explained it was time for her to go over to Bethany once more – “to hold hands with my sweetie.”

Peter died peacefully in his sleep on Jan. 18. Two days earlier, even though he had long forgotten faces and names, he had not lost touch with the power of music. Sylvia and Peter were listening to some upbeat tune when he began tapping his toes, Sylvia tells me.

The funeral was held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Cochrane. His love for dancing had inspired Sylvia to request the service close with the popular Celtic-style hymn, “Lord of the Dance,” often sung at Easter.

The hymn, adapted by Sydney Carter in the 1960s from a Shaker original, portrays Jesus’ life through the metaphor of dance. It begins, “I danced in the morning when the world was begun, / And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun.”

The lyrics then move quickly from His birth to a series of struggles in His life and conclude with His crucifixion and Easter experiences:

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black;
It's hard to dance with the devil on your back;
They buried my body and they thought I'd gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.

They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the life that'll never, never die,
I'll live in you if you'll live in me;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he!

This embrace of life after death was at the forefront of Sylvia’s thoughts when she requested the hymn.

“I chose ‘Lord of the Dance’ for the funeral conclusion because of its joyful hopefulness,” she says. “I wanted it sung as the family processed out of the church behind Peter’s casket.”

With Sylvia right behind the casket as they started up the aisle, a strange thing happened.

“For whatever reason, I suddenly caught myself dancing to that music,” she says. “It was not my plan to do so, but it seemed so appropriate at that moment, because at last Peter was free from his years of pain and was free indeed.”

When they came to the chorus, she smiled broadly and stepped even more lively with her Sweetie:

Dance, then, wherever you may be.
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
I'll lead you all wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.


© 2012 Warren Harbeck

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