I cut back on my volunteer piano playing during July so I could spend time with my daughter. When I announced to each group I play for regularly that I’d be taking a few weeks off, reaction varied. I heard a few groans of disappointment. Most listeners said they’d miss me, and wished me well until next time.
Jerry had a more personal response. He wheeled over to the piano where I was packing up.
“I probably won’t be here when you come back in August, so I wanted to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed listening to your music.”
I wasn’t sure why he thought he wouldn’t be around when I returned—although I had my suspicions—so I carefully inquired whether he was moving someplace else. He said no, but his pacemaker had “just about had it” and he didn’t expect it to last until I came back. Then Jerry offered a final compliment.
“I like how you talk to us about the music. You’re a showman.”
Jerry had been attending my performances for three years and I’d witnessed his decline. About a year ago, he appeared wearing a big turban bandage. “They took the top of my head off last week,” he said. He eventually exchanged his walker for a wheelchair, and now had a permanent gauze dressing over one eye. Nonetheless there he was in my audience, music his solace.
Through work with hospice care, I met Gordon, who loved to park himself alongside the piano, singing and dozing by turns. He once requested his favorite hymn, “In the Garden,” adding, “I know all three verses.” I broke my tradition of secular songs only, and played it for him, three times—a small comfort I could provide in his final days.
I know that music helps my elderly listeners feel better. My eyes tell me; my ears, too:
“When you play the piano, it soothes me.”
“You made a lot of old people really happy today.”
“I can’t be sad when I listen to the kind of music you play.”
Jerry’s prediction proved wrong. His genial presence graced my audience just yesterday. Doctors and nurses treat his body. I feed his soul.
Copyright © 2014 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.