“Were you made in part by the music you played? And if so, the when you died, the silence we were left with was that the same silence that exists in a concert hall the moment the music stops – a silence that still tastes of the sound that it carried.”
Nocturne is a heartfelt, intensely personal book written by Helen Humphrey’s addressing her late brother, Martin. The pain of losing her brother, the comfort of memories, his music and the importance of support are key messages in this book which was published in 2013. It is very different from the melodic fiction of The Evening Chorus and Coventry which are historical fiction placed during the first and second world wars. I wish that I had read Nocturne prior to meeting Helen Humphreys in May 2016 as it gives great insight into the author’s experience with loss and pain along and her quest to write stories with happy endings.
Martin was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in July and after complications of a perforated bowel died suddenly in December. Pancreatic cancer is a terrible diagnosis yet Martin was not ready to die and keen to keep living his life, hopeful for a longer prognosis. He had only just moved back to Vancouver, was continuing to teach his students and share his love of music when he died. Martin had asked Helen’s opinion on moving knowing his poor prognosis and her advise was:
“Go”, without any hesitation at all. We still need something to dream on, even when we are dying . We still need plans, even when we are out of time. We still need to feel alive”.
He was the middle child. They shared their art, Helen with writing and Martin with music. He was a child prodigy who began piano lessons after watching Helen learn from the sidelines. She struggled with her lessons while he was able to play her pieces flawlessly – her lessons ceased and Martin’s became a child prodigy.
“I never regretted giving up the piano. I much preferred words to music. I loved the world of books, a world I felt was much more exciting than the one I was actually living in.”
As a health professional, I think that this is an important story to read. It is important to hear how families perceive the metaphor’s that are used for dying and for fighting the battle against cancer. It is important to think of the key role that can be played in supporting the patient and their family at such a difficult time so that families know that they are not alone. It is a great reminder of the difference palliative care providers make to patients who are dying and to their family who experience the pain and loss.
“Now when people are afraid of entering that death tunnel, whether it is their own impending or that of someone close to them, I tell them that although it may be devastating, they won’t be alone. They will have good company – people who, while they may not know the individual that is dying, will fully understand the situation. This, in itself, is immensely comforting. In this place where you feel nothing but alone, you are not alone. And it makes a difference. It makes the unbearable less so.”
Although I had not realized until the end, this book is written in 45 segments, one for each year that Martin lived. He now lives on in the beautiful writing of his sister, in the music that he composed and played, in the music of the students he taught and in the memories of his loved ones. This is a beautiful tribute to Helen’s beloved brother.