Gig Building Community and “Joy on the Other Side of Sorrow”

PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) – A local nonprofit aims to unite bereaved through the healing power of music.

“Last Words Cemetery Concerts” held its 2nd annual event at Lone Fir Cemetery in southeast Portland this weekend.

“I’m a death doula and a hospice chaplain and music therapist,” said event organizer Crystal Akins. “Just by being at the bedside and working with the families, I noticed that there was a gap in care. I realized that the gap is isolation. What I witness is that we all grieve, cry and die. We were born and have our own individual stories, but what we need is community. There are so many things in the unknown that create this feeling of isolation, but what is known is that the community must be supported. Everyone in the group has experienced death in their own life. I was also thinking about this type of healing when creating this group.

Akins began working with other artists and musicians in the area to bring the community together to support and combat isolation through these concerts. Last year’s event took place at Jones Cemetery in southwest Portland.

“Last year was the big driver,” Akins said. “It was great and we had very good feedback. People started writing their own songs, writing me letters, and they hoped that we would start again. U.S. too! We are truly grateful to be working with Metro Cemeteries and starting over.

Several of the musicians and singers who took part over the weekend said it was just as healing for them as it was for those in the audience.

“I think the word Crystal used earlier, isolation, hits home,” said Kina Lyn Muir, musician and singer. “When I’ve personally been through times of grief and bereavement, isolation is something that’s fine for a while, but too much isolation can leave you stuck. One thing that has really healed me from a loss been working with this project I hope people understand that there are others and they take their time and cry and cry properly but there are people who want to create a conversation and create a community and you don’t have to be alone.”

“This is an opportunity that you are not alone,” singer Latitia McFarland said. “There is so much therapy in the songs and the words. They are so powerful and in my personal life it is my therapy. That’s how I go through a lot of things, it’s song and music. It can be fun, it can be happy, it can be a happy thing, just take your time and embrace it. It’s your own process. No one can take that away from you, but find something that will resonate with you and stay with you. Even in grief, that’s a good thing.

“I think the conclusion for me, and what I hope for everyone, is that another aspect of grief and grief over death is a joy of living,” said Desmond Spann, an artist of spoken word. “The way we know death is certain, facing it, talking about it and doing it in community, we can actually experience more joy instead of just trying to avoid the subject, avoid pain, avoid discomfort Joy is on the other side of pain.

The main thing Akins wants those attending the event to have is a community around them. She hopes to continue doing this event every year.

“I want them to remember that they can reach out and that we’re all here for each other,” Akins said. “I want them to remember that there are people who want to be in community with them and support them.”

The group will return to Lone Fir Cemetery on Sunday from 5-7 p.m.