By Shilpa

2017 is coming to an end. Looking back, I feel the warmth of the women in the Tuesday night singing circle, warm hazy memories of a summer picnic with them on Hampstead Heath and a successful Self-Care/Community Care event as the nights drew in in October. The singers in the Lambeth and Southwark Singing for Better Breathing groups went from strength to strength and the final report of the research project led by the Sidney de Haan research centre was launched at the Southbank Centre in June. Memorable ‘My Heart Sings’ moments also include:

However 2017’s most memorable moments for me were the ones with Celia.

Celia Regan first sang with the Tuesday night women’s circle in June and came regularly since. She was a warm, bold presence in the group. Her request to sing ‘Rolling on the river’ turned into a long group improvised piece which brought lots of smiles.She took a rose home from the centre one week, delighting in its scent. She gave hugs generously and I loved hearing her loud swearing and animated stories a few times. She was refreshingly authentic. Her daughter Imogen is similarly authentic, bold and big-hearted. Celia wrote empowering and life-affirming poems (see pic below), ran a successful landscape gardening business and loved being in nature. Her spirit was a free, wild one and her love of life was contagious.

Later in the summer, we found out about Celia’s illness and it became more apparent that her health was deteriorating. Celia slept more, the last couple of times she attended, dozing as we sang. I love that she found our warm ups funny and she particularly laughed loud at the Baka song Boomalena (‘my heart is happy’) – especially the loud call used to gather everyone with a firm ‘hmmmm.’

She recently visited her beloved Scotland for the last time with her daughter Imogen. Her friends Tumu and Anna were amazing supporting Celia to be there singing with us. She came to singing up until 10th October, when she determinedly attended in a wheelchair. Tumu, Jatu, Anna and I sang with Celia and her friends and family in the hospice a couple of times. The songs we sang celebrated friendship, community, love and love of nature – all of which Celia flowed in abundance with. We sang short, repetitive songs… as the songs flowed, we noticed they created space for feelings to be felt. Recordings of the singing were played for Celia when we weren’t there in person. Thanks to those who supported and mentored me to hold the circle during this time – Mum/Tina, Jaya, Beverly, Frankie and other NVPN elders and particularly dear Abi.

Celia passed away on 12th November, surrounded by her daughter and friends. She was buried under a beautiful Hornbeam tree in Epping Forest.

In remembrance, one singer said ‘Celia had a warm soul that resonated out, though I knew her very little I could feel it. What an honour it was to have her presence with us towards the end of her life.’ Another said ‘Celia, I enjoyed sitting next to you at singing a lot and delighted in your energy. Thank you for sharing precious time and space with me. May your spirit be well, happy, free from suffering and at true peace’.

Thank you Celia for sharing the end of your journey with our circle. You gave us so many precious moments. Thank for sharing your courage and vulnerability with us and for allowing us to hold space for you. It was a gift for us in so many ways. In the way you and your loved ones faced death, you really showed us how to live. We miss you and will continue to sing for you x

Here’s to breathing and singing together in ways which warm, heal, strengthen and liberate, in 2018. And lots more laughs.

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One of Celia’s life-affirming and empowering poems on the Order of Service at Celia’s funeral

groupSummer picnic on Hampstead Heath – Celia is 6th from left with a white shirt and navy trousers

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Our ‘Dark Nights, Bright Lights’ event – Open Mic, discussion, singing and food.. all themed on self-care / community care

Southbank Centre, June 2017 – launch of the Lambeth and Southwark Singing for Better Breathing report with groups from Rotherhithe, East Dulwich, Streatham and Clapham joined by groups from around the country. A brilliant, and poignant, day soon after the violent attacks at London Bridge and Finsbury Park mosque.

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