Feeling Devastated, or, What My Piano Teacher Means to Me

It has been a rough week at my house, for several reasons, many of which I won’t write about. But yesterday a lot of emotions overflowed when I received a letter from my piano teacher, Kris Davis, the one who guided me through my adolescent years. More accurately, I received a letter from her husband.

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Me, on the left, next to Kris, who is bragging about me because I had received a scholarship

Every year at Christmas, for as long as I can remember, we have exchanged cards/letters. I enjoyed hearing updates about her life and I shared with her what we had been up to. This year was no different. I sent a card and she sent one back, this time with a new address and a grim one-liner about how it was their last move until they entered the plots they had purchased at the cemetery.

I wrote back a longer letter, letting her know how much I appreciated her and that she had enriched my life through music. I had recently performed a piano solo at my church, a medley of Silent Night and Still, Still, Still. I had received many compliments on my performance, even the declaration that I had brought one person to tears.

My piano teacher, Kris, responded, and at the end of her letter, it said the letter had been dictated to her husband and that he had written down her thoughts. I responded again, asking why she could not write. I assumed she had arthritis, from years of piano performance and teaching.

When I received a letter in return, I did not open it for several days. As I said, it has been a rough week at our house, so when I finally got to it yesterday, its contents devastated me.

The letter was from Kris’s husband, explaining that she could not write because she is suffering from dementia. He explained that she cannot play the piano anymore and that her short-term memory is mostly gone. He encouraged me to come and visit them.

I immediately began sobbing uncontrollably. This news caught me by surprise and I felt as if the words I had been exchanging with her were not real and had not been understood, when for so many years I felt she was perhaps the only person who really understood me. I felt loss and sorrow for her ailment and extreme sadness that she could no longer play the piano. I worried for her husband, who must also be devastated and who cares for her each day.

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A letter of recommendation that Kris wrote for me

I called my sister Haley immediately. I made her cry with my crying and we remembered Kris and her influence on our lives. Haley often daydreamed that Kris and her husband were her real parents and that she lived with them, instead of where we did live, a place of chaos, anger, violence, and meanness.

Haley and I are planning to visit her. We don’t know what to expect, but we will go. We want to honor her life and the goodness she brought to our lives.

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24 thoughts on “Feeling Devastated, or, What My Piano Teacher Means to Me

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  1. I’m so sorry to read your friend/mentor/teacher has dementia. It is a sad disease and robs us and our loved one of so much. My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s and my father has dementia and I have been dealing with it in one way or another for a long time now. I am glad you plan to visit her. So many lose people let their fear or discomfort keep them from visiting. Know that your visit will bring her and her husband great joy.

    1. I’m sorry to hear this about your family members, Tracy. I do hope that my visit will be a good thing, for all of us. It can be scary to anticipate seeing somebody who is ill. I hope you have comfort and peace in your own struggles in caring for family.

  2. Emily, how terribly sad this is! Best wishes for a visit that somehow brings all of you joy and peace. And I hope all of the other stressful things in your life manage to work themselves out soon ❤️

  3. Sorry to read this. i haven’t had to deal with anyone with dementia yet, although my grandma is apparently starting to show signs. Worrying times ahead I fear. I hope your visit goes as well as can be expected.

  4. Your really sad story reminds me of V. Woolf’s “invisible presences”, the word combination she used about her mother and generally about those invisible presences”who after all play so important a part in every life.”
    Somehow I’d like to believe that she will recognize you and will be happy. So things we read about in books happen to us too. I also had a favourite literature instructor at university who made literature my lifelong passion and whom I visited each time I went to my hometown. When I heard about his death, that was my only solace that I visited him, told him how different he was from other instructors. After all, we are lucky to have and cherish such”invisible presences.”

    1. This is such a beautiful idea. I’ve read some Woolf but not come across her “invisible presences.” In which of her essays or novels can I find it? And thank you for sharing it with me. I enjoyed hearing about your university professor and it sounds like he is much like my Kris.

  5. So very painful; thank you for sharing, as we are all reminded to spend time with loved ones today – or to let others know what they’ve meant to us.

    I’ll start with you – and yes, your posts mean a lot – I still remember your little curbside book/library – what a comfort to anyone in the neighborhood!

    May 2019 be good to you.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I was speaking with some friends the other day about how Mother Teresa defended her work, even though a journalist noted that she wasn’t really making a big difference. My thought is if we are all engaging in small kindness and loving those around us, then we will make a big difference!

      1. Some people seem to leap at the chance to find fault with others, and that dear Mother Teresa certainly left a powerful imprint of goodness on many. If we can just leave a tiny imprint of the same goodness, then our world is slightly better.

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