"Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep," poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
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I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
A hundred voices will honor Sarah Creech on Friday night, but her life was a blend of a much larger chorus line.
She was a child of the theater on Hilton Head Island, often dancing on stage while her mother, Janice, played the piano in the orchestra pit.
She took her talents to New York City before deciding to follow her father in the field of law. On Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, Sarah took a board test for law school. The next night, she died unexpectedly of an acute asthma attack. She was only 27.
Janice will be at the keyboard Friday night at First Presbyterian Church when the Choral Society performs its spring concert, "Music from the Stage."
Midway through the show will come a piece commissioned by artistic director Tim Reynolds to honor Sarah. Broadway composer Georgia Stitt calls her musical rendition of a popular poem from the 1930s, "Don't Stand at My Grave."
Janice Creech, whose husband, Bill, died seven years to the day before Sarah, said, "This piece reminds me very much of Sarah. I think she would be saying that very thing: 'Stop crying. I'm not there.' "
Janice said she is humbled by the tribute.
"As a mom, it's always nice to hear your daughter mentioned," she said. "When you lose a child -- or any loved one -- sometimes people won't say anything. They don't talk about it because they don't want to make me uncomfortable. But I'm really happy to hear people remember Sarah."
Remembering Sarah is to hear a large chorus of individuals and institutions, a sophisticated group for a small town.
Sarah was a seventh-grader when her family moved to the island from Roanoke, Va. Janice was hired to play piano for "My Fair Lady" at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, and Sarah tagged along for rehearsals. She was smitten not only by the stage and the cast of characters in the green room, but by Meredith Inglesby playing Eliza Doolittle.
Sarah's life would never be the same.
Inglesby is a child of Hilton Head's stage, now performing on Broadway. Her family roots include beautiful writing about the Lowcountry by her relative Edith Inglesby.
Casey Colgan, a longtime director at the arts center, became a mentor to Sarah, pushing her to be her best in show after show on the island stage, even after she graduated from the University of Virginia.
Sarah was taught dance by John Carlyle and Karena Brock-Carlyle at the Hilton Head Dance Theatre.
She was taught to play piano by Louise Lewis. Penny Rose taught her to play the flute.
She watched as her mother accompanied the Choral Society and its Youth Choir and served as music director at the S.C. Repertory Company on Beach City Road.
Sarah and Anna Cauthen were invited by Dr. Jack McConnell to dance with him at Harlem's Apollo Theatre when the Jazz Foundation of America honored him for developing a health care clinic in New Orleans for jazz musicians and their families. Bill Cosby was the emcee.
She was engaged to be married to Scott Gruber, another child of the local theater, particularly Seahawks Stage Productions at Hilton Head Island High School.
In 2001, Georgia Stitt was music director of "Anything Goes" at the island arts center. Janice was the accompanist. The two remain close friends.
Tim Reynolds turned to Stitt when he wanted to find a personal, lasting way to honor Sarah.
"He could have picked any piece and said it was done to honor Sarah, but something new has been created," Stitt said. "It is organically part of the community. It was written and will be performed by people who knew Sarah. And really, it is only because of community we create anything."
She said they did not want a maudlin piece, and that's not what they got.
If Sarah could literally tell the community that nurtured her not to stand by her grave and weep, it might come from words she chose for her valedictory address for the Heritage Academy class of 2003:
"Learn from your mistakes. Mistakes will be made; you'll also have regrets, but don't dwell on those regrets. Live for today, the here and now, because at any moment, our lives could change drastically, abruptly launching us into an unexpected world.
"Billy Joel wrote, 'I was dreaming of tomorrow so I sacrificed today, and it sure was a grand waste of time.' Time is so precious. Don't waste it."
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.