My dear students Lily and Eva have lost their mother. She died right before Christmas after a valiant struggle with cancer.
Five days after she died Lily and Eva, with their dad, came to their regularly scheduled piano lessons. How I was dreading seeing them that first time! I just didn’t know what I could possibly say. So I didn’t say anything; I just wrapped them in my arms. Two precious girls, ages 11 and 8, and their mother is dead. (I previously wrote about Lily in July 2012.)
In turn they each sat down to play, and play they did, from the heart. After a few minutes, Lily, the older girl, said I don’t feel so good, can I lie down? There is a soft rug next to the piano and she stayed there for a short while. She came back to the piano, played a bit, and the same thing happened again…and again. She will be the one who takes this death the hardest.
I have asked their father many times what can I do to help? His answer is always the same: Just keep teaching them how to make music. So in that regard I guess I’m one of the lucky ones; there is actually something I CAN DO.
Many years ago an adult student gave me a beautiful picture book called Rondo in C. A young girl with beautiful long dark hair (like Lily) is playing this work by Beethoven at a recital and the author shows what memories it recalls for several audience members. It is a book that simply speaks to the power of music. I took it off my shelf, wrapped it in pretty paper and sent it to Lily and Eva. In signing the book I told them how playing the piano can bring happy memories of their mother. How I hope this is true for them.
Ann Patchett, in her new collection of essays, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, says something comforting about untimely death: The truth is that every life ends. The quality of a life is defined not by its length, but by its depth, its actions and achievements. It is defined by our ability to love.
Lily and Eva’s mother loved them with every ounce of her being, until the very end. May that love sustain them in their new life.