Lyric as a Family – A Friend in Need

The term “family” has become very fluid lately, and with good reason. The literal meaning can be scary, hollow, depressing, sentimental, or exhausting to a lot of people. Personally, It’s a very difficult word for me to hear lately, and there’s no shortage of it around the holidays. A saving grace during these feelings of helplessness is what we call the “Lyric family”. It’s my coworkers, whose generosity, open-heartedness and endless love, have made my last couple of years tolerable. Honestly, they’re often the only reason I get out of bed some days.  What follows, in addition to my personal account, are 4 other accounts of how the Lyric Chorus family has helped out in times of need. 

I grew up in a wonderful family of four. I had an older brother, Jim, who was diagnosed with type 1 (childhood) diabetes when he was 3. My parents had a remarkable sense of humor, and we all used it to make sense of any hardships and get through dark times. We were silly, unique, and we all fit just right into our small unit. We weren’t very close with other relatives, my dad was an only child and my mother was the much younger child of 5. It was unexpected and devastating when my father died of a heart attack in his sleep at 48. I was a teenager, Jim was in college, no one was prepared. It brought the three of us closer together, eventually. In 2013, Jim’s diabetes and the family’s heart issues came to a head, and he suffered a heart attack at 36, which resulted in a massive stroke. He’d spend the next 5 years in adult homes and hospitals, attempting to gain control of his right side and relearning how to eat, swallow, and speak. He was able to walk me down the aisle at my wedding, which was a huge accomplishment for him, and meant the world to me. He would die from heart failure in January of 2018. My mother went soon after, suffering from kidney and liver failure, becoming septic in March of 2019 and dying 2 days after being diagnosed. I was 39.

Now I get to the magical part of this. I started working at Lyric as a supplemental chorister in 2010, eventually becoming a full time member in 2016. To say that my coworkers stepped up and carried me through these last two years would be an understatement. At my brother’s wake, the chorus sent a lovely bouquet, wrote me several cards, and even collected money for some gift cards for my mother, my husband and me. I was incredibly touched. I went back to work as soon as I could, because I felt so much better there than if I were alone at home. When my mother passed the next year, they really saved my life. My mother’s funeral was in Bolingbrook, about 35 miles from Chicago. However, a glorious chorus of 20 professional choristers showed up to sing her to heaven. I can’t describe the feeling of seeing these living angels there for me and her during such a sad moment, but it was just what I needed, and so much more than I ever expected.

The healing, for me, is still happening, but it’s been so much less painful than if I didn’t have my Lyric family in my life. We all do this for each other out of love and our own need to make sure each other is getting by. I’m certainly not the only one who has experienced this, there are many more like me.

Chorister Laureen Janacek Wysocki had a similar experience to mine: “I’m different than most in that my emotional and spiritual essence are ever close to the surface, as I daily face the heart break and ‘ambiguous loss’ of a spouse, now in the severe stage of early onset dementia. It’s a vulnerable space. When memorializing a deceased loved one, there is a similar vulnerability. A most precious balm during such a stressful and gut wrenching time is to have the physical and vocal support of a “second family“ of LOSA colleagues/dear friends. As members of LOSA, we choose to be present and sing for each other’s loved one’s funerals whenever possible. We wouldn’t be in this profession if we didn’t believe and personally experience what a profound blessing music and community are, especially to those in

grief. In November, 1997 and in July, 2018, colleagues joined me in song to celebrate the lives of my father, then mother in performing during their Catholic funeral masses. Words can’t express how comforting it is to be surrounded by such love and support, not to mention talent! I consider myself an extroverted introvert. There’s a reason that I am in a chorus and not a soloist. Yet, my mother had personally planned the music for her service, listing several pieces, “AND MORE”, including a request that I sing Ave Maria as a solo. I was emotionally raw and daunted by singing a solo, which is stressful to me even when not under duress. It is nearly impossible to sing and cry at the same time. The support of colleagues, and their willingness to jump in should I falter, made all the difference. I’m proud that I made it through the solo and I am at peace knowing that my mom got her solo Ave Maria, AND (MUCH) MORE! Now, over a year after mom’s funeral mass, people still comment on what an astonishingly beautiful musical memorial it was. This is only fitting, as my mommy was an A #1 music fan. Sharing our vocal talent is a priceless gift that LOSA can share. I will be forever grateful.  I hold the memories of my parents’ beautiful, musical funeral masses deep in my heart, and try to pay it forward to my “second family” of LOSA colleagues/friends. When there is profound loss and its companion, grief, what matters most are love, support, family and music.”

Many members of LOSA have fallen ill, or needed emergency surgeries over the years. It is a point of pride for us to know that we take care of each other in times of need and always help with finances, transportation, or whatever is needed.

Here’s another account from one of our choristers, Ken Donovan:  “I was diagnosed with choroidal melanoma in December of 2017 and my retina specialist recommended I go to Philadelphia for additional testing and treatment in early January 2018. We were in performances of my very favorite opera, Turandot, and unfortunately, I had to miss several weeks. I knew that radiation treatment would result in my losing most of the vision in my left eye and I wondered how that would affect my ability to do my job. Facing cancer was a very frightening time for me, however the outpouring of love and support from my Lyric Opera colleagues really carried me through my treatment and recovery period. In addition to the many texts, emails and cards I received while I was out, my very generous colleagues also took up a collection to help cover expenses I would incur on subsequent trips to Philadelphia for follow-up testing. I have adjusted well to my new vision reality and am amazed that colleagues still reach out to me and ask how things are going with my eye and health post cancer.”

This account is from chorister Tom Potter:  “ I was blessed to have been a liver transplant recipient on January 1, 2006. The few years before that were filled with trips to the hospital, hospital stays, visits to the doctors, tests and procedures. All of which co-workers and their partners stepped up to help out with driving me to appointments, dropping off meals that they had prepared, sending flowers during stays at the hospital and checking in on me to see if there was anything I needed. Also a collection was made and a wonderful collection of paper plates with well wishes from each individual chorister. I will say it was not only my fellow choristers but also management as well. Every time I had a hospital stay I received flowers and visits from someone in management. I can honestly say that I experienced first hand that there is a family at Lyric Opera.

Finally, a story from chorister John Concepcion:  “I had the misfortune of injuring myself during a tech rehearsal and as a result I was sidelined for the duration of the season. This came at a particularly busy time for me and I ended up canceling gigs and juggling finances to make the transition to disability less difficult. Unbeknownst to me, my colleagues took a collection and presented me with the money collected just weeks after my injury. The gift was very welcomed and needed, of course. But beyond that, I was moved to tears at their generosity and love. Lyric management likes to refer to us as “family”. But what my colleagues did for me, and it’s what we do for each other all the time, is the true meaning of family put into action.”

This is the tip of the iceberg in a long, incredibly selfless list of people who’ve been helped physically, mentally, and spiritually by the LOSA family. I couldn’t have asked for a more nurturing environment to have to grieve in. I miss my LOSA family when we’re apart, and they’ve made me realize that while I have lost my childhood family, I’ve gained another one that I’m incredibly proud to be a member of.