When we think of veterans, most of us tend to think of men. The majority of veterans that Heroes’ Voices serves are indeed men, but there are many extraordinary women connected with Heroes’ Voices, both veterans and those who serve veterans.
Heroes’ Voices has a marvelous Music Director, Dr. Lynne Morrow. Lynne has been a leader in the musical life of the of the San Francisco Bay Area for decades, including the Oakland Symphony East Bay Chorus. She has been a brilliant partner and workshop facilitator since the inception of Heroes’ Voices and is particularly valuable leading senior veterans in our workshops at the California Veterans Home in Yountville in the Napa Valley. For three years a cadre of women singers from Lynne’s Symphony Chorus has attended every one of our singing workshops in Menlo Park. They drive long distances on a Saturday morning to raise their voices and shed their tears with the vets.
Heather McCormick is the Inpatient Program Coordinator for the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. Heather is a caring, sensitive healthcare professional, and she has a beautiful singing voice. At the end of every Friday workshop, Heather walks me out. She reports on how individual patients respond to making music, and how much Heroes’ Voices means to the veterans. That Friday chat with Heather is always a touching and satisfying way to end the week.
When I think of women who have participated in our workshops over the last three years, two veterans most often come to mind. “Jennifer” (we’ve changed her name to protect her privacy), a young Iraq veteran in a PTSD recovery program, was an active participant in one of our workshop series. During the workshops we always encourage individual vets to sing solo verses. Taking a “risk” like that in a group setting really helps to build the veteran’s confidence. Jennifer, while being a very shy person, never shied away from taking solo verses and singing them with all her heart. She also shared heart-rending and very personal poems. Here are a just few lines from one of them:
Images in my mind
Feel like I’m doing time
The Devil’s my jail keeper
Wish I didn’t have to be here.
“Amy”, an older veteran, was a patient at the VA Psychiatric Unit. Unfortunately, she had to be there for several months, but every Friday she was always ready and eager to sing. Heather told me that the Heroes’ Voices workshop was usually the only therapeutic activity that Amy would attend.
Amy had two favorite songs, the spiritual “Wade in the Water” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. It was shattering to hear this older veteran, who spent her days and nights locked in the Psychiatric Unit, singing:
Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
Thanks to the excellent care at the San Francisco VA, Amy has turned a corner in her recovery and is at last home with her family.