Music and mourning

As many of you know, my husband, Steve Holzner, passed away on September 4 after a long and excruciating illness. He was a diabetic and had many, many complications of that terrible disease. He’d almost entirely lost his eyesight. He had his right leg amputated. He developed chronic kidney disease. He had terrible neuropathic pain. We traveled to a top-rated hospital in Pittsburgh from our home in central New York in an attempt to save his leg. For various reasons, he opted for the amputation, mostly to avoid the horrible process of losing his leg little by little as further surgeries became necessary in the future. As we were starting to plan his discharge, he suffered a sudden cardiac arrest that left him in a coma for 11 days and sent him to the ICU for what would become a stay of more than three months.

I wrote here before about how Steve woke up from the coma just as the neurologist was telling us he never would. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I thought he’d be able to make a significant recovery, if not a full one. For weeks, he was alert and responsive. He couldn’t talk because he had a tracheostomy and was on a ventilator. But he nodded or shook his head, made appropriate facial expressions (such as smiles and grimaces) when someone talked to him. He mouthed words, tried to write (although he’d lost a lot of fine motor control and the writing was illegible), traced letters in the air with his finger. Once he asked the night nurse where I was by writing “WIFE” in the air. I treasure those weeks. I was able to tell him, over and over, how much I love him. Although I often had trouble reading his lips, I always knew when he was mouthing, “I love you.”

But the recovery didn’t hold. Multiple problems and complications developed, and over the course of more weeks I watched him slip away from me.

For 132 days in a row, I walked into that hospital. I did not miss being beside him a single day. For the last two weeks, I moved into his room in the ICU so he wouldn’t be alone. I was with him as he died. I held his hand and stroked his hair and told him I was there. I watched him take his last breath. I watched his final heartbeat pulse in his neck.

While Steve was ill, I played him his favorite music, even when there was no indication he could hear it. I hope he got some pleasure from that. I haven’t been able to listen to those pieces since, but I have turned to music to help give expression to my grief. I’m an opera lover, and one aria that I turn to again and again is “Che farò senza Euridice” from Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice. As I’m sure you recall from the myth, Orpheus travels to the underworld to bring back his beloved wife, Eurydice, to the world of the living. He is allowed to escort her from the realm of the dead on the condition that he neither looks at nor speaks to her until they’ve returned to the mortal world. Eurydice, not understanding his silence, pleads with him to look at her. He does, and she dies for the second time. This aria comes after that second death.

Here are the lyrics with English translation, courtesy of the Aria Database:

Che farò senza Euridice		What will I do without Euridice
Dove andrò senza il mio ben.	Where will I go without my wonderul one.
Euridice, o Dio, risponde	Euridice, oh God, answer
Io son pure il tuo fedele.	I am entirely your loyal one.
Euridice! Ah, non m´avvanza	Euridice! Ah, it doesn´t give me
più socorso, più speranza	any help, any hope
ne dal mondo, ne dal ciel.	neither this world, neither heaven.

Translation by Gabriel Huaroc (

(The singer is a woman–the wonderful Dame Janet Baker–but she’s playing the male character of Orfeo.)

I hope you’ll listen. It’s a beautiful aria. The repetition of “Che faró” and “Dove andró”–“What will I do?” and “Where will I go?”–perfectly captures how I feel. There’s bewilderment at the loss of someone who was so central to Orfeo’s world and whom he tried so hard to save. And there’s no sense of purpose or how to move forward. That’s very much how I feel right now, and although the aria makes me cry, it’s wonderful to have such gorgeous music give shape to my feelings.


About nancyholzner

10 responses to “Music and mourning

  • sharonstogner

    I wish there was something I could say… I do know finding a way to express your grief will help and hopefully one day the music will morph into something that will give you some peace.

  • deborahblake1

    As always, you write beautifully. I only wish that this was fiction. I’m glad that you had those last days with Steve, even though they were so unkind. At least there can be no question that he knew that you loved him, nor that he loved you. Not much consolation, but something. *hugs*

  • Tiah

    I am so sorry. My husband has diabetes, it is awful. I’m sorry you had to watch your husband suffer, take some comfort that his pain is gone.

  • Keith Pyeatt

    I can’t imagine your and Steve’s path and burdens these last months or even begin to understand what you’re going through now, what voids press themselves into every moment of your days and nights. My impression of you is that you’re very strong. Even so, I hope you’re getting the support you need, the time alone you need, a place to vent…whatever it is you need, for as long as you need it. Many people you’ve never met personally — like me! — keep you in their thoughts and send very sincere best wishes. Hope that helps some.

    engulfing you in a warm cyber-hug,

  • twimom227

    What a beautifully written post and wonderful testament to what it means to love. You have my deepest condolences.

  • Jackie B Central Texas (Jackie Burris)

    Nancy virtual hugs to you and over the course of time may you once again be able to listen to the music Steve enjoyed and remember his pleasure rather than the pain.

    Thoughts and prayers for your own recovery from the mental and physical devastation you have undergone and are still undergoing, my Dad was a Diabetic and in the last month of his life dementia set in and he went almost blind and deaf but we were still totally unprepared when he passed on as it is so hard to say goodbye.

  • Diva

    Oh, wow. I am just now coming across this heartbreaking news. I am so, so sorry for your loss. These are the moments in life that truly put everything into perspective. I too sat in a hospital room as I watched a loved one slip away almost ten years ago now. Those were precious moments and they give me comfort in knowing that I was there to mark the moment. I hope you find similar comfort in knowing that you were there for your husband.

  • MelanieL

    I too am just coming across this. My heart is aching deeply for you. I wish there were words to offer that could comfort but I know there aren’t. Here’s a virtual hug for what it’s worth and thank you for sharing with us. The music is beautiful.

  • Marcelo Aravena

    Dear Nancy, hopes you and family are doing well, we all people from around the world will always remember Steve and his work, his love in his projects and the love he always had for you Nancy.

    God bless you always

  • Dawn

    I am so very very sorry for your loss, and I wish I saw this sooner.

    Wishing you peace and solace as you heal.

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