An Angel Sang
by Camille Cook

"Bravo!" yelled the audience, as my sister, Lynne, and I finished the last strain of the duet, "Mira, O Norma," by Bellini. As they rose to their feet and applauded, we bowed and smiled, grateful to have pleased the crowd, and thrilled with the joy of performing together.

Lynne and I were truly soul mates. When we sang, we naturally breathed together, rose to crescendos, and pulled back into lovely pianissimos as one. In addition, our voices were so similar that when we sang together, even our parents would shut their eyes and say, "Is that Lynne or Camille singing?"

Lynne was four years older than I - my idol and mentor. More than anything else, I wanted to sing like she did. So I studied and practiced, and soon Lynne and I were singing duets all over town.

When Lynne was about twenty, she won the regional San Francisco Opera auditions in Utah and was invited to be part of the Merola Opera program. She studied in San Francisco, but when they offered her a contract to join the company, she refused. She was engaged to a Salt Lake man and chose to marry instead of accepting the offer. She and her husband moved to Iowa where he completed his medical residency. A few years later, I also married and moved to Boston with my husband. We still enjoyed singing where we lived, but we really missed singing together!

How thrilled I was to hear from Lynne one day, "We're moving back to Salt Lake!" I enthusiastically exclaimed, "So are we!" We returned to Salt Lake within a few months of each other and lived very near our parents again.

It was as if life continued where we had left off. We planned and performed programs for schools and clubs all over the city. An added bonus was our precious mother who accompanied many of our programs on the piano. As the perfect mother, she always pretended to swoon at the end of the program and gasped, "I don't see how it could have been more beautiful!" We treasured the warmth that comes from being with people you love, doing the things you most love to do.

As the years passed, Lynne had five children, and I had four, and our lives were very full and sweet with the delight of seeing each other often and performing beautiful music together.

But life sometimes plays dirty tricks on us. One day, when Lynne was about five months pregnant with her sixth child, she suffered a seizure and was rushed to the hospital. A brain scan revealed a tumor in her right frontal lobe, and she was scheduled for surgery on the very day I was to fly to Alabama with my mother to participate in a singing competition. I called Lynne and said, "Neither of us wants to leave you," but she insisted we go and compete. We agreed to follow through with the trip, as planned, but our hearts stayed at home with Lynne. That evening in our hotel room, Mom and I heard the news from Lynne's husband, John.

"The doctors removed a good deal of the tumor, and it's benign, but it's growing in a very precarious area of her brain, so Lynne will need chemotherapy to get rid of the rest of it. "

In the meantime, Lynne received a blessing from one of the apostles of our church. He blessed her that she would live to see the child in her womb graduate from high school. We were comforted by that blessing and thrilled that, as the months went by, Lynne made excellent progress and was blessed with a sweet new baby girl. Lynne and John named her Camille.

As Lynne slowly healed, she began to sing again. She didn't have a lot of stamina, but she was determined to sing, no matter how hard it was.

We performed many programs over the next few years. Our favorite place to sing was on Salt Lake's Temple Square in a beautiful structure called the Assembly Hall. It had been built as a meeting place by the early pioneer settlers and was lovingly crafted by skilled artisans who had left their homes in Europe to settle in Utah. The hall boasted marvelous acoustics, and we loved performing there often with two other friends - also sisters - who played the violin.

Life went well for a few years. Then I got a most distressing call from Lynne. "The tumor is back," she sobbed. It was aggressive and affected her ability to hear and to sing. I felt as though I had been hit in stomach.

Our friends had planned another "sisters" concert at the Assembly Hall, and when I told our singing teacher about it, she very sternly said, "Camille, there is no way Lynne can muster the energy to sing at that concert. She is NOT well. You have to tell her she can't join you!" We had to admit that she could no longer perform, and telling her was one of the most heartbreaking tasks of my life. We both wept bitterly. After all, there was no one else whose voice blended with mine so perfectly, and it was a tremendous loss to both of us.

As the tumor grew, Lynne lost most of her verbal ability and slept most of the time. It was hard to visit her because it hurt so much to see my once-vibrant, enthusiastic sister slumped in a wheelchair, unable to speak, let alone sing.

Camille's graduation from high school coincided with the shocking news from John - "Lynne was in terrible pain last night," he sobbed. "I held her in my arms until early morning, and she died about 5:00."

We gathered with the family and recalled the vibrancy and joy of this precious daughter of God, laughing and crying as we retold myriad events of her life and cherished the gifts she had so unselfishly shared. John had consolidated tapes and CD's of several of our performances and played our duets through the sound system at the mortuary. I wept quietly as I stood below the speakers. I missed her so much, even though I knew she was now released from pain and was surely singing better than ever.

I continued to perform with my other friends at the Assembly Hall. Our most recent concert was scheduled for August 17, 2001. We would be performing numbers as soloists and then join together for group numbers. I was excited, as I was preparing some rather difficult numbers by Bach and Mozart, and I wanted to do my very best. However, a few months before the concert, my lungs started feeling congested, and I couldn't seem to get better. Medication helped clear it for a while, but it always returned.

I told my friends, "Don't worry. I'm sure it will clear up before the concert." It didn't. The day of the concert, I woke up as congested as ever. I lay down to rest a while before the concert and prayed for a clear voice and ability to breathe properly so I could do my best, and then I got dressed and went to the Assembly Hall, armed with nasal spray and menthol lozenges. Oh how I wished my dear sister could be there to sing with me.

Before the concert began, all the performers gathered in a practice room below the stage and joined in prayer. The moment I bowed my head and closed my eyes, I saw, as if my eyes were open, my dear sister, dressed in a coral- colored concert gown, decorated around the neckline with flowers made in the same color. She stood very still, eyes closed, hands cupped together at her waist, as if she were ready to begin singing. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, thinking surely the vision would fade, but it remained through the entire prayer. When I opened my eyes, an overwhelming flood of warmth and love replaced the vision of Lynne. I felt confident my singing would be just fine, despite the fact that I continued to cough and wheeze.

I walked to the stage wondering at the lovely vision I'd experienced. I breathed deeply during the introduction and then began to sing. My voice was clear and unrestrained. It flowed easily, as if Lynne were singing for me. The runs, high tones, crescendos and pianissimos came and went effortlessly. When I finished the audience clapped warmly and cheered approvingly. I was overcome with gratitude and love for God who had seen fit to send me such a wonderful gift. He allowed my sister to join me once again in concert after years without her. She sang for me at a time when I was not well enough to do it myself. I know more strongly than ever that God answers our prayers, sometimes unexpectedly, and I thank Him for answering them in such a memorable way.

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