April 03, 2013

Life: An Impromptu (part 2)



A few weeks ago Mr. Smith contacted me to let me know he is losing his battle with lymphoma. He expressed his last wish for the composition: could I arrange for it to be published? I put this project on the top of my to-do list and contacted my friends at Mercersburg Printing.
On March 20, I brought the first copy to him at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. When I entered his room I stopped in my tracks -- he lay there motionless with his mouth agape and eyes half-open. My heart dropped and for a moment I truly thought I was too late. A nurse in the room noticed my reaction and said, "Don't worry - he's just sleeping." She called out to him to wake him and announce that he had a visitor. He opened his eyes and I placed the music in his hands. He immediately perked up. He thumbed through the score, giving his approval. He asked that I make one correction: change his name from Robert to Dick, as this is how his friends know him. While we talked about life and music, and he told me jokes (“Name three cars that start with P”). He introduced me to a few nurses and doctors, and I was astounded that each one already knew who I am.
Over the next couple weeks I visited and spoke with him on the phone a few more times. I invited him to attend a couple performances so that he could hear the final edits that I had made to the music. However, he was released from the hospital the day before the performances and went to his daughter’s home in Southern Maryland.
On Monday, April 1, I got a call from Mr. Smith's son-in-law, Jack, informing me that he had been admitted to the ICU at Civista Hospital in LaPlata. They found blood clots in his legs, his heart was filling with fluid, and he was at risk for renal failure. Jack told me that if it's at all possible for me to visit, it would be much appreciated. 
In the morning I packed the revised music with me (I had picked it up from Mercersburg on Good Friday), as well as my electric piano, hoping to play for him one more time. I also really wanted to obtain his official approval on my edits (I had added a section to the middle of the piece, and opted for a more optimistic ending). En route, I got a call from Jack. He asked me if I had received his voicemail that he left earlier that morning (I had not). My heart dropped as I waited for him to continue. He said, “It’s very nice of you to think of bringing the piano but the ICU is a very carefully controlled area of the hospital and they will likely not allow it.” I was very disappointed to hear this but told him that if nothing else, I would come just as a visitor.
I took the elevator to the third floor and found my way to see Mr. Smith. He lay quietly in his bed, his now-fragile 6-foot frame seeming very diminutive on the hospital bed. He had once been the weightlifting champion of Maryland! I reached for his hand and he spoke softly, in short segments. He told me that he appreciated my coming by to see him, but, "It's so hard. I don't want to go on like this." I told him that I brought a piano with me and asked if he wanted me to play for him. The bed was in the middle of the room and there was enough space by the windows to set up the keyboard in a way that there would still be access to him and the various instruments attached to him, if needed. He perked up and I told him that I would ask. I gingerly approached the ICU desk, and, without much introduction, inquired if I might be able to bring an electric piano up to play for Mr. Smith. Not only was I given the go-ahead (and one nurse promptly re-positioned his bed so that he could have a better perspective), but the staff actually requested that we keep the door to his room open so that other patients could hear the music! On the way to retrieve the piano from my car I met his daughters and their husbands and I shared the good news with them.
As I played Life: An Impromptu, Mr. Smith moved his fingers to the music. When I finished, he smiled and said "it's beautiful." For the next couple hours I played his favorite classical and jazz pieces: Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, Habanera from Carmen, Bach's Prelude in C, Fur Elise, Pachelbel's Canon... In a Sentimental Mood, Cheek to Cheek, Body and Soul, and April in Paris. A lot of tears were shed as I played through these familiar tunes. After I played Meditation from Thais he asked me if I would play it at his memorial service.
During the visit, I experienced satisfaction in having been able to fulfill his lifelong dream, and being able to provide comfort (or at least, a distraction from his pain) through music. But it was hard to leave knowing that I will likely not see him alive again. How does one say "goodbye" in full acknowledgement that it is a final salutation, and yet convey positiveness and hope? I shared with him how much I've learned from him - his love of music, his persistence and his perseverance in working towards his dream, and his faith.
I parted by promising him that I would share his music and story with as many people as I could, and that his music would be enjoyed by generations to come.

UPDATE (April 6, 2013): RIP, Dick Smith.

1 Kommentar:

Jenten i speilet hat gesagt…

wonderful how hard you work for people around you, and at the same time enjoy it yourself!:)