Those three images usually close out a thought of mine on Facebook … in the order they appear. “M” for microphone, “P” is certainly obvious, and “H” … well, of course, right?

Miles Per Hour is more appropriate, however. Facebook musings aside, life the past month or so has seen a different application of MPH along a single-focus highway of missed exit ramps. Turn-offs I willingly didn’t take, in order to help care for someone who is dying, can wait until I circle back around later. Sure, there have been – and will be – some chances to exit and do necessary things; overall, though, life has been moving rapidly. For me.

Not so rapidly for sweet Greta who is dying. This is an ending we knew was coming – it just will come sooner than expected.

She is the vocalist, I am the pianist, and our hearts make wonderful music together.

This evening, I have quiet moments to watch her sit on a very familiar tan recliner five feet from me. The room is small. She’s protected by many books and miniature owls resting on two bookcases behind her. Surprisingly, she has some energy left in her body to look over my way at times. This day has been a busy one with friends and family buzzing about her already tired soul.

I don’t know from where her drive and determination comes. These are traits I find fascinating as her days linger on through pain management, sleep deprivation, and a determination to soak up every available blink on the clock. A wonderful, full, young life experience coming to an end is slowing her time down to a breathable crawl. Every second counts.

Last hugs from an only brother this morning forced time to stop. As a niece and nephew said good-bye, the early morning sun stopped to cry just a little and its tears were seen as dew on the grass in the rear view mirror on their hearts. Driving away slowly – with a 7 hour’s drive ahead – had to be the most difficult beginning of a trip … and ending … a family ever had to endure.

This afternoon, many friends stopped by for a rather nice patio visit with Ms. Greta. Pictures were perused, memories visited, and conversations had. She laughed heartily through a veiled smile – one that is barely half of what was once full-voiced and warmly engaging. Eyes beautifully sparkling, however, and no less attentive to everyone sharing some Sunday time with her.

Time well spent today. Exhausting for her, of course. She is the Captainess of this Cancership, I’ve always said, and when a post of today’s 11-4 plan was discovered (by me) on her Facebook feed last night at 9p.m., I was surprised, but not startled.

An exit ramp I may have missed last night, but sure as tooting would have backed up and taken at 11 a.m. today once folks started coming.

There is an ending. Just not today. I am moving at a certain MPH on a single-focus road for now.

That’s only one side of this story. The other side is pretty easy to explain. I am doing what I am doing on this road because of the Microphone, Piano, and Hearts.

Greta is a special woman. She connects with me. Musically, as a pianist, I’ve accompanied no vocalist in my career who has moved me to tears. Her depth, passion, and commitment to excellence pushed me beyond my 50 years experience behind a keyboard.

We had fun together apart from music. Loving life together. Eating out, working at my concession business, sitting around the local parks, watching game shows, etc …

Thinking we had more time together is where we are right now. Time is slowing down for her, yet fast for me. Endings are never easy.

Since they aren’t easy, let me finish by inserting a paragraph posted on Facebook by my friend Rick. He came by today. His words will be mine until we meet again. Hug a loved one today. 🎙️🎹💕

“(Landslide) is a very special song as of this moment. I had the pleasure of visiting my friend Greta today and this is one of her favorite songs. I visited her on her patio with other friends, her Mom, and others there. Today, this very special woman decided she was not going to die today. She was determined to welcome friends for a last visit, a goodbye. My friend is soon to be lost to cancer, but she knows it, has thought about it, accepted it. A very strong, charming, witty, and talented woman with a heart as beautiful as a sunrise on a beach. If this is farewell, I am a better person for have having her in my life if only for a short while.”

7 Floors Down

Directly below where I now sit is a cafeteria. Beside that eatery is a small, intimate little sitting area with one bench. I sat on that bench – seven floors down – recording a 4:06 video. This happened nearly two hours ago here, at Shadyside hospital in Pittsburgh, during a time when I should have been somewhere else …

Life isn’t all smiles. Greta and I should have been rehearsing final notes for our, “Smile: A musical journey through life and rare terminal cancer” concert. Instead, we are quietly singing our way around nurses, beeping IV pole stand monitors, and shuffling feet noises outside a very accomodating western PA hospital facility. It’s been a difficult past few days. Six months of planning. We fell a mere few days short.

There is no quit here. The concert has been postponed. For those among my readers who are unaware, here is the poster:

I sit here at 9:11 wondering, “why?”. It’s hard not to ask that question. Why so close, yet so unreachable? During a small window of opportunity this afternoon, we had a moment when Greta’s vocal, quiet beauty met my pianist eyes. That one word fell into our near conversational silence. We knew it. It remained unanswered as time drifted into a lull. Seventy-two hours is all. After six months of planning and rehearsing, life came down to seventy-two hours.

I sat on a small bench recording a video, not another smaller bench playing, “Silver Lining”, or “Rainbow Connection”. There will be no beauty in song tomorrow. No daisies on stage or train whistle to begin the concert with Doris Day’s rendition of, “Sentimental Journey” ending with Greta’s A-major 7th she loves so much. “Chase” – with her brother, Bump – and Donnie & Marie’s closing theme will both have to wait until we decide to reschedule. There is no quit. No give-up. Twenty-three songs and pieces Greta and I have accepted as part of our souls are, now, archived in our library of memories … for now.

Seven floors up from where I was, I now sit. Sad, but so glad Greta is receiving the care she needs.

“Why?” still remains unanswered and will be so. I don’t want an answer. One week earlier this concert had a chance. Even this past Wednesday, she had the spunk and energy to do a full hour interview at our local radio station. We had a window. Small as it was …

Life with appendix cancer isn’t what anyone expects or plans for at any time … anywhere. As I finish up this short post, I am so grateful for the opportunity to share a smile journey. It’s, simply, not the way Greta and I hoped to dance happy memories past your ears tomorrow.

Below is a replacement video for the livestream we planned for 2:00 tomorrow. May you find peace and wonderment in all your smiles – and please listen to your favorite music not only tomorrow afternoon, but always. “Smile, though your heart is breaking …”

I Don’t Know Joe

I don’t know Joe, but I know Dave. He is on the right … next to a glad to be there friend of his. Most likely he is smiling not only because it was a 60th birthday celebration, but also the colon cancer so prevalent in his life seems to have taken a break. I love this guy. A customer … and a good friend.

As I took inventory of my life and watched invisible minutes swoosh by over Canoe Creek, the opportunity to take another picture of this state park arose.

I wasn’t as much on edge emotionally as I was physically – sitting on yet another worn picnic table. These sit-upons have been there for decades, so it was a challenge finding a comfortable splinter-less, middle-of-the-plank location on which to rest my aging butt. The early May wet weather didn’t help, either. Damp spots sprinkled areas on the dark green outer seats making choices less available. Finally giving in to a forgiving, yet small, dry area slightly under the pavilion’s protective overhang, I sat with a festive piece of birthday cake in hand.

Dave’s day. A surprise planned by his son, Matt. I was one of a few non-family members who came by to wish another year of happiness. Atop the little hill. A Canoe Creek pavilion where my family reunions and church picnics were religiously held. Memories filling those invisible minutes. My great-grandparents sat there, breathing in the same lake experience I was having many decades later during a cold Saturday birthday visit. Seemed like a short Friday before when church prayers and cookouts happened only yards away from where I sat. It wasn’t, of course. Memories appear like yesterdays, but aren’t, right?

What was in my brain? A lot of great memories at that time, for sure. Thinking about my mom the day before I wouldn’t be able to celebrate another “winning the cancer battle” Mother’s Day Sunday with her, my mind was on other things when pulling into the park earlier. The particular pavilion hosting a friend’s party was not in any memory of mine, … short or long term. I knew it. Matt told me weeks ago. I, simply, forgot.

I don’t know Joe. He graduated this year. Congratulations, Joe. The blue balloons attached to the pole outside pavilion number one attest to his achievement. I boldly walked past them on my way to the enclosed tent where festivities and merriment were clearly underway. Any person wanting to be involved in a birthday celebration would’ve walked up to three men and asked the same question. “Hi. Where’s Dave? Nice to see such a turn-out for his birthday.”

“Uhm, hey Doug! (I was wearing a company jacket).. How’s the hot dawg business?”

“Great. Sales are sales, I guess. I don’t see Matt. He said sometime around 1:00 would be a good time?”

“Kinda would be … except this is Joe’s graduation party.”

“Oh? Joe?. So I probably have the wrong pavilion?

“Suspect so. You’re welcome to stay, though. We have hotdogs!” (yuk yuk … always the joke when I’m at a picnic)

“Sorry to interrupt, geesh. I bet they’re at another pavilion!”

“Uhm, yeah. Not here, for sure. I think there’s another party closer to the park entrance” …

…. And then, ONLY then, did I remember Matt’s instructions were to drive past the parking lots up to the little hill. With extended apologies I didn’t need to say, off I went to arrive moments later … without ever meeting Joe.

Up a small grade and over past the buffet table full with pork, potatoes, and coleslaw, Dave welcomed my visit with a warm smile and handshake. Matt followed with his wife and relatives. Turn-out was small due to the weather. I suspect nobody would have been turned away, friend or stranger, had an adult mistaken their pavilion for another. This is a nice, kind family who embrace the minutes just as I did on the edge of a rickety bench.

On Sunday, Dave and Matt came by my cart. I was open for business outside the local Sam’s Club selling on behalf of the appendix cancer research foundation. This is me doing my thing:

There’s a special person about town, Greta, who is seeing her way through appendix cancer. She spent a few minutes talking with Dave across the serving area of my cart as she was helping me serve. They had a colon/appendix cancer conversation connection I simply watched unfold.

This is what’s special about my life and business. Two strangers, bound by a common challenge, connecting … talking things through – figuring life out as best they can.. I’m glad to be a part of that connection.

Neither one is depressed. They’re moving ahead with life as it is. Making the moments count.

As for Joe, I wish him well. Life will be his plan … whatever road he chooses to take. I just hope he listens to directions and doesn’t turn off too soon into a gravel lot expecting to see Dave. It can be a bit embarrassing.

Happy 60th Birthday, Dave!! Many more …