Author’s comment: Every analogy I use seems to involve water, a recurring theme in my life. My husband was a gifted musician, whose illness robbed him of the use of his hands, legs, and speech. I watched helplessly, much like a captain trying to navigate unfriendly seas without the necessary tools. I believe he is now free of the earthly impediments, making music once again on another stage.
“This is the last concert I’ll ever play,” he said as I rolled his wheelchair onto the stage. I placed his water bottle and music on the stand. He unpacked his case and meticulously assembled his horns. His tone was perfect as always as he started his warm-up. His once-nimble fingers labored ever so slightly on the keys. I noticed a little slower movement, the dexterity slipping as he ran through the scales.
Larger sailboats control the rudder and thus steer the boat with a ship’s wheel; the smaller boats use a tiller. A wheel is turned to the right to make the boat head in that direction, whereas a tiller moves in opposition. If you want to steer the boat to the right, you push the tiller to the left.
The program for the Salisbury Orchestra listed him on clarinet as Phil Jehle, a departure from the many names he used when playing non-union gigs…Phil Harmonic, Phil Dirt, Bertha De Nation, Ben Dover… It didn’t matter anymore. There would be no more paying jobs.
“This is the last concert I’ll ever play,” he repeated as he sat in his chair, wearing his tuxedo, leaning to the left side. It was getting difficult to balance even while seated.
The sheet is a rope used to pull the sail closer or to let it out. While adjusting the sheet is 90 percent of sail trim, there is so much more. Halyard tension, outhaul tension and traveler adjustment change the shape of the sail. Each maneuver requires experience to contribute to the efficiency of the sail and can take years to master.
“We Need a Little Christmas,” “Sleigh Bells,” “What Child is This?” and “Ave Maria” were performed before the intermission. Phil adjusted in his seat, took a drink of water and rearranged his sheet music for the remaining selections of the holiday concert.
Apparent wind is the wind experienced by a moving object. True wind can only be measured by a stationary object mounted on shore. True wind is affected by the forward motion of the boat; therefore, a pennant attached to the mast will show wind coming from a different direction than true wind.
Phil and I retired to the beach in 2010. We planned to finally travel, pursue some hobbies in earnest, and live the laid-back beach life. Instead, almost immediately, his health started to fail. He began to have trouble walking and balancing. One by one, his limbs shut down. He saw a series of specialists who provided little help. The diagnosis finally came from UPenn: multiple system atrophy, a degenerative neurological disease that leaves its victim with a fate similar to that of the famous baseball player, Lou Gehrig, and the physicist Stephen Hawking.
Not long after the diagnosis, his left arm and hand contracted. His elbow and wrist were bent, and his hand held a tight fist. The right arm followed a month or two later. He could no longer hold a book, iPad, or cell phone. The remote control lay idle on the bed.
In the final stages, he couldn’t feed himself and eventually had difficulty speaking. I learned more about medicine, home care products, and disasters lurking around every corner than I ever dreamed possible. I learned that a simple bedsore could take a person out of the ballgame. I had to be vigilant and fastidious in caring for any signs of skin breakdown.
It takes skill to navigate a sailboat into a safe port during a storm. I felt like I was trying to steer with a broken rudder, a severed mast, and sails luffing in the wind. I was turning a meaningless wheel, never knowing in which direction I was headed, or the timeline in which we would expect to reach the final destination. Each day, I was at the mercy of the wind, drifting aimlessly with the tide, unable to anticipate when the next swell might cause a tidal wave to wash over us, capsizing the boat, separating us, setting us each adrift.
The hospice center had a beautiful sentiment printed on the back of its guide. It spoke of a group of sorrowful people assembled on the shore watching a ship disappear in the distance until the tiny speck is no more. At that point, someone says, “There, she is gone.” What they don’t see is that there is as big a group assembled on the far shore eagerly awaiting the ship’s arrival. They rejoice when they see that speck on the horizon. They see it grow larger as it approaches and jump up and down in great joy, shouting, “Look, here she comes!”
The concerts continue. Only the stage has changed.
Charlene Fischer-Jehle taught physical education and health in Bethesda, Maryland for thirty-five years before retiring to the Delaware shore. She began writing a book of letters to her daughter before she was born and continued until her 21st birthday. She has published in the Washington Post and is now seriously pursuing her writing. Her personal essay “The Last Concert” was just published in the Delmarva Review, Volume 12.
Delmarva Review publishes the best of original new poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction from thousands of submissions annually. The independent literary journal is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Print and digital editions are sold by Amazon and other bookstores. Website: DelmarvaReview.org.
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