Marie read widely — books, poetry, the New York Times. Art held sway also, but it was music that took over her later life — opera first, chamber music a cherished second. She and her husband were carried together into her Alzheimer's world soon after the turn of the new Century. Marie had the kills-you-slowly variety, and as her accustomed life-long faculties melted away, others unknown before opened up to fill the voids and keep her whole until the end. The slowness itself was one of the 'gifts of Alzheimer's', as her husband often thought of it. That gift enabled them to grow more closely together than they had ever been before during their everyday rush through everyone's normal, unafflicted lives. Prime among Marie's compensatory acquired new faculties were a deepened sensitivity to music, and as well, a quietly resigned receptivity to her husband's reading to her. The reading first ...
Around mid-marriage, after their one-child nest had emptied, Marie and her husband took to reading out loud at the dinner table after eating. Their first book was Anna Karenina (Tolstoy). With the conversations it provoked, and proceeding at their natural on-again, off-again pace, it took nearly a year to pass through it. Many books and years later, they came unsuspected to their next-to-last book. This they read one-and-a-half times before time caught up with them — Arlene Alda's (real-life Hawkeye's wife) Just Kids from The Bronx. Marie and her husband were both born there in 1931. Her birthday was March 13; it was a Friday and she always called herself "the Friday-the-13th kid" when bad-luck came her way. Her husband was born some few blocks away, it was thought possible, five-and-a-half weeks earlier. They may then have been near-neighbors, but they were never destined to meet until 21 years later. As her husband tells it, this was the exact time required for nature to sculpt his lady TSS, Inc. now memorializes into one of the finest and loveliest of human creations ever. Almost as a harbinger of Alda's title, Marie often called herself and her mate "Two poor kids from The Bronx." Alda's book was a treasure because it enabled her to express long-term memory, which she clearly had even though she couldn't "remember ding-dong", as she always said, in the here-and-now present. Every Bronx place-name — of a museum, school or college, park, street, boulevard, bakery, fruit-stand, delicatessen — she knew them all, almost all. Her husband would have her close her eyes and describe them by correcting his purposely mistaken descriptions. They made it fun, and it was therapeutic for both to see her humanness sparkle through the Alzheimer's haze. Her hidden presence, whenever given a chance, said loudly and clearly that her personhood was very much intact. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) came into the news in the early spring of 2016. They had read it before, years ago, but they decided to put down the Northern book, half-read the second-time through, to tackle the Southern one again. They finished it just a few weeks ahead of Marie's death, never completing their second reading of 'Just Kids'. That book is now in her coffin, bookmarked where they left off, to whatever end only Frost's The Secret Sits' Secret knows. In passing through 'Mockingbird' with familiar presence day-by-day, Marie showed in body language if not words that she clearly knew right from wrong to her very end. Now, her music ...
Pirates of Penzance at the Atlanta Opera
Music became Marie's biggest therapy. She would hum through pieces she knew whenever and wherever she heard them — at home, at live performances. People sitting near her in any audience would quickly trade annoyance for understanding. That and other kindnesses, extended by others whenever infirmity became evident, was another gift of Alzheimer's, giving reassurance that human compassion was still intact — a good message in troubled times. Marie's last 'opera' was in fact a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta at the Atlanta Opera, Pirates of Penzance.
It was March 13, 2016. Her husband took the photo you see of her in her accustomed seat of many years (photo opposite). He later quipped to friends that he splurged and bought the whole row as a birthday present. Yes, that is our ageless and lovely mid-octogenarian 'Just-Kid from The Bronx' you see there, four-and-a-half months away from her unsuspecting end no-one ever knew or saw was coming. Almost three years later, she is still there in spirit; her husband photographed her place during the intermission of Dead Man Walking on February 10, 2019. (pictured bottom right)
Marie's accustomed seat
Marie and her husband grew into music-loving from the start of their lives together. They met at Rutgers (New Brunswick) in September, 1952 on the fourth floor of Winants Hall. Marie worked there and her husband-to-be was assigned a graduate-student office nearby. She took night-school classes, and would return afterwards to Winants, where the two of them would study together until midnight or later, growing in love while listening to New York's classical music radio station, WQXR. At midnight each day, the all-night program would be introduced by its theme music, Greensleeves, which introduces our website. Hearing it so many nights in that year of pre-marriage, it became what they considered their first music together. In recent years, thanks to the advent of live streaming, WQXR re-entered their lives and became an almost constant daytime presence in their home, including its contemporary Operavore feature. They referred to it as their "childhood music station." In early July, 2016 Marie developed some shortness of breath while walking. After some days she was taken to the ER; she was diagnosed with possible pneumonia. The condition did not yield to antibiotics, and after a week her symptoms worsened and developed into what at her age would become a terminal auto-immune condition, ARDS. Her husband and daughter Karen consented to hospice care, and two days later Marie died, peacefully and comfortably. But not before, like the Titanic musicians flaunting oblivion, giving her final quiet kick to the world that, if you knew her, you would say yes, this was typical of her grit not often seen. Comatose for almost 20 hours, the attending nurse finally turned to Marie's husband and daughter present and informed them death was imminent. Her husband reached for his laptop and began streaming one of their favorite pieces from opera — the overture to La Traviata. If music hath charms, so it did that day. Marie rose up from her coma, opened halfway her sightless eyes, oriented her attention to the music, and made her final response to a last physical stimulus on earth. Her husband embraced her, laid her gently down on her pillow, and a few minutes later she took her last breaths, then rested forever. Listen Here to that very overture.
Lost now physically from those who adored her, and never to return, Marie still inspires us to dream her dreams for human betterment and offer in her memory the unusual mix of music, science, poetry and aspiration that is this website . Poet Mary Oliver (deceased) said this about death in her book Upstream: "In the mystery and the energy of loving, . . . no matter how ferociously we fight, how tenderly we love, how bitterly we argue, how pervasively we berate the universe, how cunningly we hide, this is what shall happen. In the wide circles of timelessness everything material and temporal will fail, including the manifestations of the beloved." Death has so many ways it can arrive. Some are devastating, painful, brutal, and awful; some are peaceful, exquisite, and silently beautiful, as it was fittingly for Marie that midsummer afternoon. In its finality death ends everything, answers nothing. Living is a process that asks the stuff of physical existence to support its drawing of sustenance from the previously laid down materials of geophysical earth. The answers received are delivered up by Darwin's natural selection, the agency that indifferently and unforgivingly crafts tools that give permission or deny it for Life to carry on, continue, proliferate, change, and die. If Life's living measures, manipulates, and employs what is material, its loving, wherever this occurs, has no such agency, not in the first instance. It can only, in humans, express our visceral and cardiac sides in its contemplation, appreciation, speculation, and even invention of the contents of its sphere. And, it can grant great awe, respect, affection, even adoration to the content of both spheres. But cerebrally, it cannot unravel what does not concretely exist to be unraveled, though it can apply motive force to what can (like us), and by this acquires some agency too to alter physical, thence virtual, reality. Music is physical, its effects phenomenal, and through the latter it 'hath charms' to change the world.
Better Music, Better World
Marie's transition was transfixing in its quiet beauty, poignancy, and mystery, and stunning in its ultimate and complete finality, irreversibility, and permanence. No place to go. No place to hide. Life's great eraser, Death, came calling, found its quarry, did its work, and left. End of story. The short poem, The Secret Sits, Marie chanced upon and came to love so long ago, says it all in saying nothing about the eternal unknowns and unknowables of existence. Life and Death — can Kant's infernal noumenal shroud imposing human ignorance about them ever be lifted? Or must Frost's poetic Secret only that knows be the sole inaccessible holder of final truth? Our name challenges us to not let reality's indifference stand — to our species, our individual selves, our quest to know; indifference too to all life, its individuals, and their searches for their knowledge and existence. Our blind but continuing-to-search answers to these questions are — to the first, Yes; to the second, No. We have to keep searching. It is in our nature, and we choose to surmise in that of all life too, to endeavor collectively to breach the opaque barrier to final knowledge, even knowing everything in its own time will fail because the Ages have all failed before, always. Except, ... except, out of pressing yet again in each Age from an ever-expanding base of human knowledge, the Secret could one time open up a micro-fissure to the shimmer beyond — that proverbial first domino at last, delivered up from the final words of Frost's curt poem, "... and knows." And knows! It knows, we don't. Not yet.