"Buffalo Plaid' was excluded from my book, MUSICAL MORPHINE: Transforming Pain One Note at Time," not because my editor didn't like it, but because I needed to cut a little in a particular chapter. The story takes place one winter in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York when I was working at Mountain Valley Hospice as a Certified Music Practitioner. The story has never been published, although I have submitted it for inclusion on a music website.
As an author, since I never toss anything I write, I am gifting "Buffalo Plaid" to you. Enjoy.
Doug sat alone in his Hospice room, seated in a beige recliner, staring out the window at the snowy woods. His door was wide open. The television was off, no radio played. He was not reading or working a puzzle or talking on the phone. When I knocked lightly on his door he looked up with a response that surprised me.
What does the setting in Doug's room suggest to you about this man? What response do you think he surprises me with?
I looked more closely at Doug and saw missing fingers on the hand lying across his lap.
Any more ideas about Doug's working life?
The vast unforgiving Adirondack Mountains harbored many a hard-living man eeking out a meager living in the woods just five hours north of hurried, crowded, sophisticated New York City.
What does the mention of New York conjure up for you? Thought so. Most people think New York means New York City.
I approached the solitary man slowly. Keeping my distance, I pulled out my harmonica, showed it to him and began playing "Git Along Home, Cindy, Cindy," an upbeat folk tune often played on hammer dulcimer in the lumber camps up north.
Now what? Should I leave Doug's room at this point?
I didn't expect him to speak.
What do you think Doug has to say to me?
"My Uncle played one a' them," he said flatly, looking at me briefly, then turning his head to gaze out the window again.
Do you have a harmonica "story?" It seems like lots of folks do. Share one if you do.
"You want me to play some more?" I asked.
Will Doug want more music or has the lone man had enough?
"Yeah," he said still looking away.
What did the music, the choice of harmonica do for Doug?
I played several more camp tunes for Doug: "Golden Slippers," "I've Been Working' on the Railroad," "Oh, Susannah," and the like.
Help me out with some more "campy tunes" to add to my harmonica repertoire? What might you enjoy hearing?
"When you comin' back?" Doug asked me.
Are you surprised at Doug's response? I was. Why?
The following week I knocked softly on Doug's door hoping this time I wouldn't frighten him.
I stayed "safe" during this session. How and why?
The next week I brought my guitar and ventured into singing some country music for Doug. He remained relaxed, focused on the woods outside his window.
What do you think Doug is referring to?
I began playing the intro to "Amazing Grace" on my guitar then sang all five verses.
Do you have any songs that make you tear up, swallow hard? What might have made Doug become emotionally connected during this session?
Doug welcomed my music for several weeks, but I began to see the telltale signs that he was failing.
Some folks say that doing this kind of work with dying patients at Hospice takes a special person. I agree that it is intense and difficult, but special? What do you think?
It was a typical Adirondack winter day, penetratingly cold, heavy gray, and spitting snow.
This is where things get hard for me.
I softly played harmonica over him, remembering the shy lumberjack who allowed me into his very private life.
I consider this a small miracle. Who knew that a harmonica could be an entre into a shy, withdrawn dying man's life. Have you had an experience where something drew you and another person together unexpectedly? Will you share?
The music I gave him that day was the last sound he heard on this earth.
So how do I do it? I carry these patients, like Doug the lumberjack, in my heart, write stories about them and share the sorrow as well as the joy with you. The saying goes: sorrow shared, is sorrow divided; joy shared, is joy multiplied.
Share your stories!
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Award Finalist in the "Health: Alternative Medicine" category of the 2017 Best Book Awards