Stand Still: a song for Sandy
Despite the many problems brought on by the pandemic, despite the cancer that ultimately took her life, Sandy Young described 2020 as “one of her best years”.
Friends in Bermuda rallied around her until the end. Her dying wish had been to make it back to her family in her beloved Barbados; an air ambulance got her there less than 48 hours before she passed on September 16.
Today, however, marks a celebration.
On the occasion of their shared birthday, Janita Burke will launch a music video on Zoom. Called Stand Still, it partners the song she wrote last year after discovering that her dear friend was seriously ill.
“The message really is stand still in your spirit and move forward in faith,” said Ms Burke, a lawyer who creates songs under the name JB Psalm. “Don’t allow your circumstances to become bigger than life itself. Keep loving, keep living, keep forgiving and that’s what Sandy did in spite of it.
“She said even though she had this sickness, that 2020 was one of her best years. That was so touching. She was just overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from her friends in Bermuda; the hospital staff at KEMH were really, really amazing. We were hoping for her healing but we did get so much more. And I was just so grateful. She was at peace.”
The pair bonded through a presentation made by Ms Young, a Bermudian who had her own business selling Kirby vacuums.
“I had this severe allergic reaction during the presentation and it solidified a friendship – one of concern initially. And we just sort of stayed in contact and the relationship and friendship developed.”
Early last year Ms Young, whose Christian name was Sharon, developed a persistent cough which worsened just as Bermuda was ordered to shelter-in-place.
“I got a call from one of her friends in Barbados asking me had I spoken with Sandy and is she OK,” said Ms Burke. “I said yeah. We were on lockdown but we were WhatsApping daily, a few times a day. And she said, ‘She’s not OK. And she’s talking about driving herself to the hospital.’
“I went over to her house and what I saw just shocked me. She was in such poor condition, there was absolutely no way she could drive herself to the hospital. She was really short of breath and just very frail.”
Worried that she might have Covid-19, Ms Young had not wanted to call on her. Ms Burke put her in the back of her six-seater car with the windows down and drove to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.
“She stayed in there for, I think eight days.”
Doctors determined pneumonia but said they believed cancer was the underlying cause and that it had spread. They recommended a biopsy, which Ms Young refused: she didn’t have the required insurance and she had things she had to work out with her business.
“I also think she just could not believe a cancer diagnosis,” Ms Burke said. “I think she believed, because she was very in tune with her body, that she would know if it was that.
“She was such a faithful person; a very kind person; very conscious about her health.”
Ms Burke had written her first song only two months prior. Faced with “a challenging situation” she refused to respond in the same way she was being treated. First she began to pray, and then started to sing.
“As time went on I realised I was singing a song. I was singing the same lyrics to something with a defined tune. So I got my phone and recorded myself singing this song. And then I wrote down the words to what I was singing.”
Similarly, Stand Still came about through conversation with God.
“It was about 1 o’clock in the morning on April 24 and I just was crying out. I essentially was writing this sort of prayer or dialogue that I was having with the Lord, like I was Sandy.
“I finished the song that evening and I sent it to her and said: ‘You just have to stand still, God’s in control. We’re just going to believe.’”
Ms Young said the song would be “her anthem going forward”.
“She was my biggest fan,” said Ms Burke who has since written 38 songs. “I would share all of my songs with her. My voice isn’t great. It’s sufficient enough to carry the melody but she loved every song and so when she passed I knew that I wanted to do the song as a tribute to her at her funeral.”
Although Ms Young saw a brief improvement, her condition got worse after she was released from hospital. Ms Burke took her to see her doctor on August 7 and they were told that her “left lung had basically collapsed”.
Because of Covid-19 finding an oxygen tank was difficult. Ms Young returned to KEMH where, after consulting with doctors, she agreed to have a biopsy. On August 19 the results were returned: Stage Four lung cancer.
“At Stage Four they can’t cure it but potentially they can prolong and you can live with it. But your body has to be strong enough to fight. Her body was so worn down. On September 16 she transitioned.”
Despite the sad outcome there were “a number of mini miracles”, Ms Burke said.
Ms Young reconciled with her brother after many years of not speaking and she was able to make her way back home after the challenges of Covid-19 prevented family members from being able to easily come here.
“Sandy was adamant that she wanted to go home to Barbados and that she was not going to die in Bermuda. The doctors had said there was no way that an air ambulance crew would take her to Barbados – she was on the highest level of oxygen and her body was just so, so weak. But she was so insistent.”
A friend found an air ambulance that would do it “at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars”. The money was raised in a matter of days.
“She was able to see her family that night and the next morning and she died later that morning,” said Ms Burke who was unable to accompany her friend because it would have meant missing her young daughter’s birthday celebrations.
“As you might imagine I was her main caregiver so it was such a privilege to be a part of sending her home and just to see that this sort of last request was granted.”
Determined to share the song at Ms Young’s virtual service on September 29, Ms Burke approached John Woolridge, the music producer, and two of her friends, Marissa Brangman and Jarita Vickers.
“They rose to the challenge and we got it done,” she said. “It was produced acoustically, just with a piano arrangement and one singer for the funeral because we only had ten days. And then I decided I wanted to go all the way and fully produce the song. We went back into the studio and worked on it and I pre-released it in Bermuda on the December 31.
“That was important to me because 2020 had been such a challenging year; for me, with losing my friend, it was a very difficult year. It still is difficult. I’m still in the grieving process. I wanted a different result. I wanted God to heal her and he didn’t heal her how I would have liked. But it still was a good year. When I think about how her and her brother were able to forgive each other, how I was able to see her travel to Barbados against all odds. It was a good year and so I wanted in that year to sort of put a marker that 2020 was a good year and to encourage people in my community and Bermuda, to stand still.”
Response to the song has been “overwhelmingly positive”. At tonight’s video launch she plans to also announce what people can next expect from JB Psalm.
“It’s really exciting that my community is behind me and that they get the message of hope and assurance. That in the midst of tough circumstances: stand still,” Ms Burke said.
Download Stand Still on YouTube or purchase on Spotify or iTunes and other streaming platforms. Follow JB Psalm on Instagram and Facebook. Join the launch party of Stand Still at 7.30pm tonight here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAqcOCgqjkqE9FTrJ61g70iZK0KKw2IniQ-