Brain Cancer: A silver lining

Richard on a "walk" to the river, with Molly, my dad, my brother Bill, and my sister-in-law Lucy

Late last September, when it was clear that Richard’s brain tumor was getting the best of him, Molly asked if she could come stay with us “for the duration” to help with his hospice care.

“Of course,” I said. “We’d love to have you.”

It took her a couple of weeks to arrange for leave from her job as an analyst for a big ad firm in San Francisco. By the time she arrived, her daddy was already having a hard time walking, but when he spotted her getting off the bus from Denver, I swear his smile was big enough to light half the county.

She settled into our guest cottage, and began quietly figuring out ways to help out, from sitting with her dad in the afternoon so I could get out for a walk, to getting him to talk about his art and his life.

A few days after Molly arrived, the hospice harpist came for her regular once-a-week “concert.” She set her harp up in the bedroom and played for 45 minutes while Richard rested.

After the harpist left, Molly said, “I could do that.”

“What?” I asked, one ear cocked for her daddy stirring in the next room.

“Play for Dad.”

I looked at her, astonished. This is the “kid” (she’s 33 years old now) who has Richard’s music genes in spades. She was such a talented flutist in her school years that she won a four-year, full-ride scholarship to the local university–when she was in 8th grade. Somewhere between high school and college though, things went wrong, and she quit playing. She hasn’t picked her flute up since.

Molly's inner flutist emerges…

Her daddy and I had never quit believing that making music would always be part of who Molly is. Someday, we hoped, she would take it up again.

I swallowed, keeping my voice light.

“Yes, you could,” I said. And left it at that.

Two weeks later, when her boyfriend came to join her, he brought her flute, having unearthed it from heaven-knows-where in their San Francisco apartment. (I didn’t know she still had it.)

The next afternoon during her daddy’s rest time, she took it out, put it together, and searched for flute music on the internet. She propped her iPad up on the shelves in the kitchen, cleared her throat, put her lips to the instrument, and began to play.

iPad as score, cabinets as music stand!

I woke Richard. “Listen,” I whispered. “That’s Molly, playing for you.”

Did I say his smile could probably light half the county? When he heard the notes of her flute, the smile-glow was likely visible 100 miles away. He reached for my hand.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Don’t thank me,” I said, tears running down my face. “Thank Molly.”

“You taught her about love,” he said, “and generosity.”

We held hands, listening as the gift of Molly’s music graced the house.

Molly played for her daddy almost every afternoon, her technique growing stronger and more sure with practice. She and the hospice harpist played two duets, laughing their way through.

After Richard died, Molly said that the harpist her offered to play at the celebration of his life. I held my breath, not wanting to press.

“I think I will too,” she said after a moment. I hugged her.

And she did. The crowd of several hundred people hushed as she picked up her flute and the lush notes twined with the plucking of the harp strings. I felt her daddy’s smile, and had to wipe away tears.

Molly’s still playing, and I see that as a silver lining on the very dark cloud of her daddy’s death. The love of my life is gone, but his joy in making music lives on. Witness the video below from last month, where Molly plays a duet with my sister-in-law, Lucy, a cellist.

Thank you, Sweetie, for that gift!