Friday, October 17, 2014

The Last Rose of Summer

Last week, while playing through the Classical Fake Book at the Jewish Home, I stumbled on an old Irish song titled “The Last Rose of Summer.” I had never heard it before, but my good friend Cyril started singing in that marvelous Irish tenor voice of his, with his usual gusto and verve. At 95 years young, Cyril has the soul of a child, such a marvelous spark, mischievous twinkle and dramatic flair. His rendition of “Buddy Can You Spare a Dime?” never fails to draw applause.

So today I looked forward to introducing him to the three Interns accompanying me to the Home and when I sat down to the piano, my good friends Fran and Edie started the session by telling me they had some sad news. How my heart broke when I heard: “Cyril had a stroke and passed away two days ago.”

I was stunned. When your friends are 90-plus, such things shouldn’t come as a surprise. But they do and they hurt just as much. Amongst many things to grieve for, I felt like I wish I could have had an opportunity to thank him for the joy he gave me and given him a proper goodbye. And then I remembered this song, the last one he sang, and knew that this indeed was our mutual goodbye. At 95, Cyril had no family left and few friends outside of the Home that anyone knew about. And so these words carried an extra poignancy.

“’Tis the last rose of summer, left blooming alone.
 All her lovely companions are faded and gone.
No flower of her kindred, no rose bud is nigh.
To reflect back her blushes, or give sigh for sigh.
So soon may I follow, when friendships decay.
And from love’s shining circle, the gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered, and fond ones are flown.
Oh, who would inhabit, this bleak world alone.”

And so with these words echoing in the air, a few days later, Cyril followed his old lovely companions and joined them in the other world.

There is a great triumph in the simple fact of surviving so long, of dodging all the bullets of Fate and soldiering forward. But there must be a profound loneliness to be the only one of your peer group to be left (the very theme of the song), especially if there are no children and grandchildren gathered around you, no village to esteem you and keep you connected. I remember telling Cyril a couple of months ago that I had to go back to school to sing with the kids and he gave me a plaintiff look and asked, “Can you take me with you? I gotta get out of here. There’s just not enough music.” How I wish I could have! One of my finest Cyril memories was him singing “Five Foot Two” with two third graders I brought by last June. Such animation and life in a face you have never seen before! I had asked a filmmaker to come on that occasion and he couldn’t make it and I’ll regret that forever.

Cyril, you touched me deeply and I hope I gave you some pleasure back and what a shame we didn’t meet earlier and have long years of joyful music together. I’ll miss you terribly and will think of you every time I play Buddy Can You Spare a Dime? or The Last Rose of Summer.


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