I’ve decided that it is impossible to say good-bye to a woman who has left such a profound impact upon my life. What began as a ‘business’ agreement to teach piano to Debralyn, and later Josh, turned into a deep connection between two women. And even though her life on earth has ended, her fingerprints in mine will remain with me for the rest of my life.
Wednesdays. 9am. A place for this busy homeschool mom to exhale and listen to the beautiful music Marilyn helped Debralyn and Josh create. Without realizing it, this little space on a couch in her living room began to fill a ‘mom-shaped’ hole in my heart.
She scampered around the room doing all she could to help my kids ‘feel’ the music. I’d never seen such a dedicated and creative teacher. But, I had also never seen a woman who could open her heart to so many people and welcome them inside of it.
Lessons never began at the piano. They began with her pausing long enough to check in with ‘mother.’ She wanted to know what I was teaching the kids. What I was knitting. What I was making for supper. What I had loved about living on the farm. What I was going to do on April Fool’s Day. What were those tears in my eyes?
She just seemed to be able to read the nuances of my life like she could read the nuances of a piece of music.
So each week, Wednesdays at 9, I showed up. The errands that needed to be run during lessons always waited. Why on earth would I miss a chance to ‘be’ in her presence?
Years passed. We marked the seasons together by noticing the fallish breeze as she stood at the door waving good-bye. She entered into my joy anytime a snowstorm was on the horizon. We marveled at the perfect peony bloom that she placed on her coffee table.
More importantly, she asked me how I was handling the changes in our family. As child after child headed off to college or fell in love, she anticipated my heart and knew exactly how to encourage me. She empathized without telling me how to feel. She had the uncanny ability to paint a picture of the beauty that was ahead of me without discounting how I felt in that moment.
And then I became her student. No longer was I sitting on the couch. I was seated on her piano bench. I felt vulnerable and small. She infused me with confidence and together we began to bring out the music that she had seen deep within me. A part of me came to life again!
She introduced me to Bach in a way that I had never known him. She placed my hands upon hers so I could feel the movement. I ALWAYS left with my spirits high – not just for the music – it was because I had been with her.
It was during one of my private lessons that she brought me deeply into the world that she was living.
Aphasia. A cruel disease that was taking away her ability to find her words. The tears began to flow down my cheeks. She took my face and turned it to gaze outside.
“Look at that magnificent sky. Isn’t it the most beautiful color of blue? The sky will be the sky whether I can say the word or not. Isn’t that amazing? I have so much to be happy about!”
She bravely and enthusiastically jumped into the world of memory care. This brilliant, wise, adventurous woman was doing all she could do to keep exercising her mind. It wasn’t beneath her. It was something else for her to learn. She could have chosen bitterness. She chose gratitude.
Marilyn always loved to play duets with her students – and I was no exception. (We always ended my lesson time with a duet). She had to stop teaching, but I still stopped in to see her from time to time. Last winter, as I was saying good-bye, she scurried to the piano telling me we had time for a duet. I’m so glad that I realized I could be late for my next appointment because that would turn out to be the last time we played together. She pulled out “Let there be Peace on Earth.” This was the first time that I had to ‘wait’ for her as we played. The tears flowed down my face as we created music because the moment felt so tender. I was looking for something profound to say when we finished, but she beat me to it.
“We’ve got to take this on the road, you know.”
Yep, that’s what she always said. Even now, that makes me smile.
I’ve heard it said that what’s inside of a person comes out more clearly as they age. When I saw Marilyn for the last time this summer, she could no longer find my name. But, no matter. She let me into her heart through her crystal blue eyes. They danced with delight. They knew me. They looked at every picture of my children and grandsons that I could show her.
She mustered up the phrase, “I’ve got so much. I’m so happy.” She was telling the truth. She gave and received love so generously. What more could a person need?
I didn’t want to leave her that day. There was no song for us to play together. But, I still stepped into her living room and looked at the couch where I had received so much.
Then I stood at the bottom of her stairs while she climbed up three so she could reach my face to give me a good-bye kiss.
She’s always been up ahead of me. And she always reached out to give me what I needed. Even then.
Yesterday was her memorial service, and I took this photo earlier that day.
“Look at the sky Marilyn. It’s still the sky whether you are saying it or not. It’s the perfect blue for the fall leaves. You’ve got all your words now. And I’ll keep looking at the sky.”