Sunday 24 January 2021

THE MUSIC BETWEEN US: Memoir of a Bedside Musician


I am always fascinated by stories of personal transformation. How does anyone achieve redemption, wisdom, grace and meaning after experiencing or witnessing prolonged suffering? I'm especially interested when those stories come from caregivers. 

Steve Litwer is a volunteer guitarist for patients in hospice care. His book, The Music Between Us: Memoir of a Bedside Musician isn't just about the music he plays for dying patients, though. It's a story of growing up with a mother who had severe mental illness and a father who was incapable of protecting his children from the ensuing neglect and abuse. It's a story about music, memory, healing and intimacy - against all odds. 

The author weaves harrowing descriptions of his early home life with riveting and sometimes delightful narratives of patients he plays for. Litwer observes, "I had never thought about my bedside performances like this - as acts of divine grace." 

Anyone whose own childhood was poisoned by a parent's terrible demons will identify with the author when he says, "Rationally, I new her mental illness was not her fault and that she simply needed more companionship. But that logic was not enough to overcome my bitter feelings towards her for what I endured as a kid." Litwer himself was for many years, unable to experience intimacy with others, including his own wife and daughter. But slowly, succumbing to the stillness and awe of being present with music throughout the dying process of many in hospice care, Litwer began to experience forgiveness, love and self-acceptance. Through the combination of music, memory and profound friendship with the dying, the author describes how it felt to be healed. 

A non-practicing Jew, Litwer discovers Christianity almost by accident. He describes visiting a dying nun in a religious order, the Sisters of Charity. In the course of their gentle spiritual teachings, the elderly nuns invite Litwer to answer the call to accept divine love. Litwer answers, "Yes, I accept. I surrender. Please take me." This passage left me wondering if our challenge as caregivers is similar: to embrace love, abandon judgement of ourselves and simply accept what we cannot control. 

For some, the personal pain of caring over time can transform into a sort of superpower. At the end of his memoir, Litwer quotes the author Anthony Goulet, "Count your scars as the number of times you've been healed, not wounded" and observes, "Thank God for my scars." 

Steve Litwer's book, The Music Between Us: Memoir of a Bedside Musician is available from all online major booksellers. 

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