Our Song

Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category

By: Etta Schaeffer

On March 29th , 1990,  my husband Don and I  celebrated our thirty first wedding anniversary. We were living in the Long Island, New York suburb of Huntington, forty miles from New York City. Our son, Andy, who at twenty five, was living in an apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey. And working on Wall Street after graduating from Vassar College  three years earlier.  Everything should have been wonderful, but it wasn’t.Don was suffering from and being treated for, stage four colorectal Cancer. The two of us would come into New York City five days a month for him to have chemotherapy at Mount Sinai Hospital.   A few days after our anniversary, on Friday, April 6, 1990 we were on the third floor in the cancer wing finishing that month’s schedule of treatment. We had a limousine service drive us to the hospital, drop us off,  and then come back for us at a given time and location.

It was a grueling  and tiring routine we followed every month. We worked very hard at  being upbeat, trying to cover our fear of the inevitable. We made jokes with the hospital staff, and smiled most of the time. There was an unreality about our situation. A dying man and his wife fighting a losing battle and trying to keep each other from realizing the true situation. I guess what we were doing  could be called living in denial. I thought of it as making Don feel more comfortable, less fearful and  enabling both of us to live from day to day.

Each one of the chemotherapy sessions took about three hours, with Don lying back in a recliner chair and getting his medication through an  intravenous line to a port in his upper chest.  His veins could no longer support the frequent jabs they had received, so they inserted this line called a port, permanently, near his left shoulder. Our lives were one doctor’s appointment after another. I was working and took the time to go into New York City with Don so he wouldn’t have to make the trip alone. One month when I couldn’t get away, five members of the Huntington Business Women’s Club set up a schedule. Each day  a different woman drove him in and stayed with him, keeping him company while he had his treatment. That was the kind of thing that really helped us make it through that period.

On this particular Friday, we were relieved  the chemo was finally over for the month, and we could go home to relax over the weekend. On our way down we were rather quiet, not saying much, just holding hands and walking toward the exit where we were to meet the limo. As we approached the exit we saw there were double doors with glass inserts and a small foyer behind them. As we went through the doors and entered the foyer we realized there was a young  man and woman in the corner holding hands. We also saw and heard that he was singing to her. He stopped almost as soon as we entered. We both started saying don’t stop, please keep singing. We told the young man we needed cheering up. The young man  reluctantly agreed, but said he would continue only if we sang to them, next. We agreed. He finished his song, we applauded loudly and enthusiastically. Then without saying a word we reached for each other, started dancing  and singing the song that had been played for us at our wedding, thirty one years before. We sang the first song we danced to as husband and wife, “Our Love Is Here To Stay.” We danced as we had thirty one years before. My eyes were closed, it was the most romantic moment of my life and took my breath away. When we finished  I couldn’t speak, the young man enthusiastically asked us “Who made that record?” My husband simply said, “everyone.” Just then we saw our car at the curb waiting for us, and we bid the young couple goodbye. We left feeling a peace and a joy in knowing that whatever our future held  we could make it.

We spent the next fourteen months fighting a fight we could not win. We went where we were told to go. Don took every treatment suggested, when  a clinical trial was available he became part of it, and suffered through more than any human being should ever have to endure. He put up a great fight. On Friday June 7, 1991 at four a.m. in room 215 in Huntington hospital Don died. he had fought the fight for two years, I was with him all the time, yet his death was a shock to me, my denial was that great. I had even told him earlier that last evening that I thought he could give up, end the struggle, that we loved him and thought he had fought long enough. When the phone call came it started a cascade of tears that didn’t stop for a very long time.

Our son Andy was devastated, but continued working and finishing a graduate business degree. He was in an executive MBA program at New York University, it finished just two weeks after Don’s death. I don’t know how he did it, and to my great joy, Andy was number one in his class as well as being the youngest student. I had to go to the ceremony and see him receive his degree and his award (a beautiful engraved Steuben bowl.) I invited my best friend Marilyn to join me, Andy asked a girl who lived in Huntington to come as his date. The three of us came into New York City by limo and met Andy at the top of the World Trade Center, Windows on the World for a drink before the ceremony began. We only had to walk a few blocks to N.Y.U. When we got there we walked into the lobby of the building where they were having an hour long reception before the awarding of the diplomas and awards. Andy walked in first with his date, Marilyn was next, and then I entered. There was a live band playing, just a trio, piano, bass and drums. They were playing “Our Love Is Here To Stay.”  I felt  light headed, and worked hard at not  bursting into tears. With great difficulty, I took a deep breath and continued walking. I tried to mingle and make light conversation with those around me, but the trio kept playing the same song as a twenty minute set. A small band usually plays for a period  (known as a set) of twenty minutes  on, and then takes a break for ten minutes off. They always play a variety of songs to entertain their audience. Don had been a musician and I had spent a lot of time listening to live music for  most all my life, I had never heard a group play one song for their whole set.  This was very unusual. When I could no longer listen, I just headed for the door, Andy was right behind me. he said “I don’t understand why they’re doing that.”  I looked at Andy and I smiled. I suddenly realized, he was there, Don was there, so that he could see our only child get his just due.
When we lose someone we love, we do what we have to so that we may survive. I choose to believe that the love of my life, the man I met when he was nineteen and I was a young girl of fifteen, wouldn’t just leave me. He wouldn’t miss his son being honored. My Don, a professional arranger and composer of music, had to give me a sign that he was there, that he was looking out for us and signaling us through music. What better way than to have the band playing “our song.”

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