John D. was born with a love of music. “I’m a whiz on piano,” he tells me with a mischievous smile. We sit in the fifth floor community room of the local care and rehab center where John now lives. As we chat, he reaches forward from his wheelchair to tap a few keys on the electric keyboard sitting in front of him.
John’s love of music started at age eighteen. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree from Curry College in Massachusetts, he went on to receive his Master’s in Composition from the College of New Jersey. What started as a focus on philosophy became forty years of loving music and composing. Even though he never pursued music as a career, there was a time when John performed locally whenever he could.
“He could rock to Billy Joel or Mozart,” his younger sister, Pat explains. “That’s how good his keyboard skills were.” His mother, Marge, looks on with a proud nod.
Now in Samaritan’s hospice care, John has benefitted from the compassion of his Samaritan interdisciplinary team, which includes his music therapist, Julia, and his social worker, Christine. When Christine asked John if he’d like to give one more live performance, John’s eyes filled with tears, and Christine and Julia sprang into action.
Plans were made. Songs were rehearsed. Now, two weeks later, John’s mother, sister, and fellow patients gather in the facility’s community room, their chairs forming a semi-circle around the spot where John sits in his wheelchair, playing the keyboard as Julia accompanies him on acoustic guitar. John’s voice is tentative at first, his fingers a bit out of practice, but as Julia offers encouragement, John’s confidence and love of music take hold.
John opens with Hello Again by Neil Diamond, then Father and Son by Cat Stevens. As he sings his third song, Love on the Rocks, John’s voice soars, his vocals strong and loud. After he spontaneously breaks into a solo performance of Peace Train, John and Julia close with Lucky Man by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The poignancy of the moment is not lost on those gathered, and the room falls quiet. “Ooh, what a lucky man he was,” John’s voice wavers on the final chorus, and the audience bursts into applause.
“John’s features crumple, his eyes grow damp. “I’m just so happy to play.”
For the moments he performs, John is not a patient on the journey of serious illness, but rather, he is a lover of song, a keyboardist, playing live in front of an adoring crowd who cheers, applauds, and sings along with his favorite tunes.
“Is there anything else you’d like to say?” Julia asks softly as the clapping begins to fade.
John’s features crumple, his eyes grow damp. “I’m just so happy to play.”
At Samaritan, we often speak about above-and-beyond services. Services like music therapy. Services that make dreams—like John’s—come true. This is the Samaritan Difference—the moments made possible by the loving support of the community we serve and the donors who become our partners in caring.
And while it may seem that John was the lucky one that day, those of us in the audience were the lucky ones—the humbled ones, the ones reminded to embrace the moments that matter, and to live whatever time we have to the fullest.
Thank you, Marge and Pat, and daughter Jenna, for sharing your beloved John’s story. Thank you, Christine and Julia, for making John’s dream a reality. And thank you, John, from all of us privileged to be in that community room when you shared your smile, your voice, and your heart to perform live, one more time.