74: Mary’s Song

74: Mary’s Song

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

Mary’s Song

There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is.

~William P. Merrill

I was with my husband the day he was diagnosed with cancer. I accompanied my mother four summers later to the physician’s office where she was informed she had terminal lung cancer. She died a few months later, on my fifty-first birthday. Less than two months later, I witnessed the same doctor tell my daughter Elizabeth that her five-year-old son, my grandson Jacob, had Wilm’s tumor, a rare form of cancer that would necessitate the removal of the affected kidney.

When the doctor reached for the doorknob to leave the room, his eyes met my stricken ones. He shook his head sadly, laid a comforting hand on my shoulder for a moment, and then left the room, closing the door with a loud click behind him. At that precise moment I heard a beautiful female voice sing just two words, “Ave Maria,” from the radio speaker above us. Stunned, I turned to my daughter, but seeing her face buried in her little boy’s back, her shoulders shaking with sobs, I wisely said nothing. The song had already ended anyway, and a generic Christmas song was playing. Later, I would ask Elizabeth what she’d heard when the doctor closed the door, and the answer was the same; just the two words, “Ave Maria.”

“That was your grandmother’s favorite song,” I told her. My mother had even mentioned it in a memory book she’d filled out years ago, noting that as a young girl she’d loved playing the piano and singing that song. For weeks I searched YouTube videos for the voice, but to no avail. It wasn’t Celine Dion, Charlotte Church, or any other famous singer’s voice.

Having seen two other loved ones through cancer, we could barely stand the thought of all that Jacob’s little body would have to endure. First there was the invasive surgery to remove the tumor and the kidney, a surgery Jacob would spend Christmas Day in the hospital recovering from. The days following the surgery were long and difficult, especially for my daughter, who stayed at the hospital night and day. Jacob was in obvious pain, and cried for the catheter and IV to be removed. The news from the doctors kept getting worse. The tumor was of the unfavorable type, with a lower survival rate. Jacob would need months of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Elizabeth repeatedly asked me, as if pleading for it to be so, “Can Grandma watch over him? Help him in some way?” Her grandmother had so recently died; it seemed natural to wonder that.

We both yearned for a sign, any sign, from my mother, desperately grasping onto the smallest of things: a few faint whiffs of cigarette smoke at odd times, small feathers we’d find on Jacob’s coat, and that “Ave Maria” at the doctor’s office.

My mother had lived for less than three months after her diagnosis. She’d faced cancer bravely, determined to live to the fullest in whatever time she had left. When her children asked her what was on her “bucket list,” her reply was immediate. “I’ve always wanted to ride in a small airplane. Or fly one,” she added.

My sisters made arrangements with a local pilot to fulfill that wish. Before she got on the airplane, Mom turned, and with a huge smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye said, “Wouldn’t it be something if this was the way I went?” My son made a film of that ride, choosing the Coldplay song “Viva La Vida” to accompany it. I often watched that video on my computer to remember her like that, so happy and excited. But I also knew the song was not one she would have chosen herself; it wasn’t even a familiar tune for her. Instead, she would have picked something more traditional, more religious. Something like “Ave Maria.”

In August of 2011, a year after my mother’s diagnosis, I interviewed a man and his daughter for the local newspaper. Mariah, a twelve-year-old, had recently advanced to the State Fair as a vocalist. The fact that she’d advanced to the finals from local competition three out of the last four years was quite a feat. Her father, Rick, mentioned that this year she’d won with the Miley Cyrus song, “The Climb.” The previous year she’d won with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And the year before that? It had been “Ave Maria.” A little chill went down my spine with that information. Apparently, Mariah had chosen that particular piece then because it had been her grandmother’s favorite song, a grandmother who had recently died of cancer.

Rick promised to send me video clips of Mariah singing. He e-mailed me that evening, telling me he’d checked out my blog and giving me a link to his own. Another chill went down my spine when I saw the pages of his blog were filled with photos of small airplanes. From the entries, it was evident he loved flying. He’d even flown the small airplane that my mother had ridden in, which he informed me when I asked if he knew the man who’d donated the ride for my dying mother.

I reminded him of his promise to send the video link of his daughter singing “Ave Maria.” When it arrived in my inbox, I hesitated before clicking on it. I didn’t think I could stand to hear a butchered version of the special song. Closing my eyes, I clicked on the link, listening closely.

“Ave Maria.” I was startled out of my reverie by a woman’s lovely soprano emanating from the computer speaker. I opened my eyes and stopped the video. I started it from the beginning again. And then once more. Over and over, I clicked on the beginning of the video, shaking my head in disbelief. The rest of the song sounded like a very young girl, but not those two words. After months of searching for the voice I’d heard in the doctor’s office, I was certain I was hearing it again. And for the first time since that day at the doctor’s, I listened all the way through to the end of the song. It was only then that I realized those words, “Ave Maria,” were only at the beginning of the song, and not repeated at the conclusion. Elizabeth and I couldn’t have been hearing the tail end of the song before the next generic Christmas tune began playing.

At that very moment, watching that video of a young girl singing a song that her grandmother had loved, I knew without a doubt; those words sung in that doctor’s office had been a message from my mother, and the message was: I am here, and Jacob will be okay.

Ten months later, he is.

~Mary Potter Kenyon

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