the last jam session

It never should have happened. He was a mere eight days away from death. His body weak, mind beginning to fade, and life starting to slip from his fingers. But as he sat in the family room as evening turned to night on August 18th, 2010, I brought Gilad’s guitar in and began to play for him.

He hadn’t listened to music in so long, not since early June – his connection to music had been so deep that when the beauty of life was ripped from his heart, he was unable to stand hearing the beautiful songs that once gave him hope. But still I wanted to play for him one last time; to play the songs we used to jam on.

In the beginning, I was the teacher, he the student, and jam session’s our bread and butter. Since I taught myself to play, I refused to teach Gilad and forced him to learn by himself – by printing chords out off the internet, decoding tablature, and jamming with me. What started as an annoying, out-of-tune, second instrument, soon turned into a harmonious accompaniment to my mediocre chops. I remember coming back one winter break to discover that he had blown past me, talent-wise, as he soloed endlessly during a jam session, his fingers moving faster and more fluidly than mine ever had or would. We spent hours awake around campfires, entertaining my campers and his friends, during our years in camp together, and we played every time I would come home from school on a break. He was the ultimate guitar partner, one whom I could intuit and know what he would do before he did it. His playing complemented mine, and I’d like to think mine did the same for his.

And so, I sat down, one last time, to play music for Gilad.  But instead of just listening, Gilad demanded a guitar. He was sleeping more than not by this point, and just moving between rooms had become difficult. But no, he demanded a guitar. We gave him Aba’s old lightweight acoustic, that each of us had used when we learned the instrument, and I began to play our song – Dispatch’s Hey Hey. A cheesy song about teenage love that somehow meant more than anything to the two of us. The harmonies and interwoven guitar parts were perfect for our voices and styles, and we had made the song our own over the years.

I began to play, as Gilad’s hand desperately searched the fretboard to the proper fingering. His muscle memory was weak, and his fingers weaker, but he tried hard to remember the chords and how to play them. As tears streamed down all of our faces, we sang and he along with us. It was just a few minutes – a few short verses and choruses – but it felt like an eternity. Because we knew then, that this would be it. We knew that he didn’t have much longer and that there was little chance he would ever play guitar again. We knew that despite this grab at something beautiful, this stab in a musical direction – an area fraught with life, happiness, and joy – that this would be his last waltz, his final hurrah. As the final notes were played, the guitar taken from his hand, and he leaned back on the couch, we all sat in the afterglow of something incredible, of something true, pure, and beautiful.

The tears continued to stream, but we did not wipe them away. Our lives were about to fall apart, but for that one moment, we were able to remember, and we wanted that memory to be seared into our minds. We wanted to remember that moment forever, because we knew.

We knew, that this was the last jam session.

Dispatch – Hey Hey

3 responses to “the last jam session

  1. That was really beautiful and heart breaking. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Many of you may not know that besides being a music aficionado, Ariel is a special combination of emotionality, kindness, and heart. [Yes, it’s his mother here to embarrass him…]

    As Gilad’s older brother, I laugh at the words “I refused to teach Gilad and forced him to learn by himself.” Typical older brother. But as an older sib, Ariel forged a bond with Gilad one summer at camp, outside the parameters of home, in a place where no roles were delineated. That became their relationship: mutual admiration replaced younger brother pining after the older one, older brother shrugging off the younger. I loved seeing them together. They couldn’t stand when I would sneak into a room where they were jamming, and while I’d be grinning ear from ear, I also wouldn’t stop talking to them as they played….. Ah, to be an annoying mother.

    Last year’s jam session was indeed magical. It was a connection beyond the physical. Music has always played a central role in our family, but that nite we all felt the tones and notes and vibrations and emotions that music both exudes and inspires. It was heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time, and I believe that Gilad carried that music with him to another realm, to the dimension where we hope he now exists. For us, the music he loved – a lot of Pearl Jam – deeply resounds for our family. As we listen, we sometimes belt along, sometimes shed tears, but always, always think of our boy with a smile. The music connects us to him…and if music can indeed transcend the physical, we hope Gilad can hear it, too.

  3. I’m in tears..missing Gilad .