Music brought us together as friends seven years ago. Serving on the music committee at our synagogue, we shared a love of music, particularly classical music. We became friends and met over our weekly mochas to chat about music, photography, family, writing or anything on our minds that day.
Our weekly chat time came to an abrupt halt in January when she received a diagnosis of end stage pancreatic cancer. More stunning than the diagnosis was the fact there was no treatment. “Go home to hospice care.” What do you say to a friend who gets this kind of news? I couldn’t find the words.
I’ve been a musician since I was ten years old and have been teaching piano for over 25 years. It’s been my education, career and passion. It’s part of my daily life and I can’t imagine my days without the joy that being an accomplished musician brings to me. Until a few months ago, however, I couldn’t fully appreciate nor understand the comfort and peace that music could bring to someone else.
Most Thursdays since January, I played piano at the home of my dying friend. Before teaching my students, I would go to her house and play for her for an hour. Her perfectly tuned Baldwin grand piano greeted me each week. The first time, I even prepared a printed program for her. Week after week, her eyes would light up when I arrived, and she would ask, “What are you playing for me today?”
She would make herself comfortable in the living room, sometimes sitting in a chair or lying on the sofa. Words weren’t exchanged. I began playing and she would listen. Music of Brahms, Schubert, Debussy, Bach and Chopin filled the room. Occasionally she fell asleep but I continued to play to keep her at rest.
One week I came and forgot my music books, so I played from some of her books of classical music and show tunes. “Somewhere Out There” brought back memories of her son as a young boy, and how it was their favorite song. It made her smile. “Do you know the Spinning Song? I used to play that,” she said.
Winter finally gave way to spring. This was not a spring of rebirth and hope, as each week I saw my friend grow weaker. But she perked up when I came and mustered the energy to listen to my music. When I couldn’t verbally express what I felt or find the right words of comfort, I knew that I could do so with music. It was our unspoken conversation.
At 3 am, she sent an e-mail after I had played for her hours earlier. “I have music coursing through my body! Especially in the middle of the night, it fills me with comfort and pleasure. Thank you my dear friend!”
It was at that moment that I wasn’t sure who had been given the greater gift.
Whether uplifting, mournful, passionate, introspective or joyful, my piano music helped her heart and mind soar to a place where her body could no longer go. The piano concerts gave each of us something to look forward to each week. At a time in her life when each day brought pain and uncertainty, music brought calm and peace.
The last time I came to play for her, she was in bed and unable to come downstairs. I sat alone in the living room at her piano and filled the house with music for an hour, knowing the music could still reach her.
My friend died the following week. Maybe my piano music was the last music she heard.
We often underestimate the joy someone can receive from something we do, especially when it comes easily to us. Share something special that you do… perfection or a few wrong notes along the way will never matter.