15 Stones

We had a few minutes. Greta and I weaved our way through the maze that is Shadyside hospital in Pittsburgh. Outside, across from a large slowly rotating door, in “The Garden of Distinction”, we sat comfortably on a weathered wooden bench. Finally, after 48 hours of hospital air, a fresh August breeze filled our lungs.

It is a meditative rock garden. Greta spent little time reflecting upon her past two days, of course. Any thoughts of IV drips, nurses, needles, or pain most assuredly was there but didn’t require her attention. The focus was her art … Needing to express herself by creating something out of nothing.

And that she did.

I watched the process unfold. With no fancy pens or expensive supplies available at her patient, artistic insistence, stones warmed by a late August sun were just enough to give her all she needed.

Specifically chosen by shade, stones were placed in rows and columns – darker to lighter – 3×5 to finish. 15 stones. On the top rests, perhaps even now, a pebble man on a chair as this artistic piece was not dismantled upon our departure. As we left, she stopped a few paces down a pebbled path to pick up that pine cone to return and place it gently on the corner. “Now, it’s complete!”, may have been the phrase so happily smiling in her head at that moment? I can’t recall what she said then, but I’m aware she knew those 15 stones, a pebbled man, and a pine cone brought closure to a wonderful time in a garden.

Yesterday was hard. A day that was supposed to be full of smiles and music presented an empty stage and lots of tears instead. When the day nurse wrote 8/22 on the daily board, it was difficult to see in the context of medicines and dose schedules. August 22nd was not going to be wasted, however.

I asked Abbey, her very kind day nurse, if it was possible to go outside after Greta requested a meeting with sunshine and nature. She pleasantly agreed and made arrangements for us to begin our trek through the labyrinth that is Shadyside. (Full disclosure here, I wanted to head out the nearest exit with Greta and not come back …). Slowly we headed out of the room, down 7 floors, past the cafeteria, then the gift shop, a few short steps until reaching a long, majestic entrance/exit to the rotating door …

… Out to a small driveway – then to a very peaceful rock garden.

Something out of nothing. 15 stones. Art is there for us to interpret. She is an artist who created a small work of art – a man in a chair on top of 15 stones … with a pine cone. It remains there as evidence of her presence during a very difficult time. I have my private ideas about what this means to me and would encourage you to look at that picture to consider how a terminal cancer diagnosis would change your perspective.

Music is art as well. We lost yesterday’s chance. As an accompanist, I lost the opportunity to perform with one of the best vocalists ever. What I have, however, is something much better. Time in that garden.

During an afternoon when we should have been on stage in front of many friends, we sat alone among many stones in a meditative garden. I watched as she worked her artistry … I was accompanying her once again – just not how we planned.

All in all, I figure the day was a success after all. My ideas and thoughts about her little creation, again, will remain mostly private. What I can share, though, is this:

Appendix cancer took the concert away from her yesterday – 72 hours short of our goal. 15 stones may seem small and insignificant to many, however, to me they represent the rock star Greta will always be to me.

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