It was August 1992, and my mother was nearing the end of her battle with lung cancer. This was the day my Dad and I got a prescription filled for morphine. There was a hospital bed in the room where she used to sit for hours in her recliner. We took turns sleeping on the sofa near her, and, on this night, the two way intercom crackled on in my room with my Dad’s call for help. She had gotten off the bed to use the portable potty, and then slumped over. We think she had a small stroke, and we helped get her back lying down. I asked if she wanted to start the morphine, and, being unable to speak (something new for her!) she shook her head “No” emphatically. Her strong will remained – she did not want to start taking that drug.

After Dad went back to bed, I asked her if she wanted me to play the violin. She nodded gently, “Yes,” and I played Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and a couple more beautiful, relaxing tunes.

In the morning, Dad was on the phone to Hospice to find out how best to care for her now that she was not conscious. I noticed that her breathing was slowing and Dad got off the phone. We held her hands, said our goodbyes, and watched as her chest moved less and less until it stopped.

Her last volitional act had been nodding to have me play the violin! And despite her great fear of a horrible choking death as her lungs failed, she passed peacefully away with no suffering at all.

This experience still radiates joy to me for two reasons – that even someone who struggled in life can be blessed with a peaceful death, and, by showing up even in difficult situations, I can let the moment guide me to find appropriate and inspirational modes of expression.

Taken in May 1983. My mother and my son enjoy blowing bubbles.

Taken in May 1983. My mother and my son enjoy blowing bubbles.


Blaise Kielar received Honorable Mention in the 2022 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize for an excerpt from his memoir in progress, "Be Heard: The Quiet Kid Who Started the World’s Loudest Violin Shop." He opened Chapel Hill’s first violin shop in 1978 and retired from a music retail career by transitioning Electric Violin Shop into the first worker-owned co-op music store in the United States. He plays jazz violin and clarinet in several bands and leads the Bulltown Strutters, Durham’s community New Orleans brass band.