Body and soul

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.


This entry was posted in Music and emotion, Volunteering. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Body and soul

  1. Roger Wise says:

    Life isn’t as much about what you get as it is about what you do with what you get.

  2. Jessa says:

    Your mother said that this was your best one yet, and she cried at the end. Thanks to your residents for sharing your time with me.

    • I nearly cried when the incident with Jerry first took place, then again yesterday when he arrived to hear me play. As for sharing, my listeners are a generous bunch, especially when it comes to family. They’ve reached the point where nothing is more important than that.

  3. June ritchie says:

    Wow how beautiful! What could anyone ever add to that!

  4. Judie says:

    You are a generous soul. I’m so glad Jerry got to hear you play again.

  5. Aunt Evie says:

    Glad to know I’m not the only one brought to tears by this one.

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