Sibyl - January 1, 1999

Dear Readers,

Last summer, my mother-in-law died.  Sibyl and I had a special relationship. Two things we shared were music and humor.  She was a sweet, sentimental, deeply caring lady with a tough outer layer.  She could be very demanding and had the ability to intimidate the strongest of souls.  Somehow, I was often able to disarm her with a well placed sarcastic joke.  We sometimes teased each other mercilessly.  A good number of times, after one of our exchanges, I would ask my wife, Anna, "Do you think I went too far this time?"  And later, Sibyl would take Anna aside and ask her the same question.  I've been told by family members that I said things to Sibyl that no one else could have gotten away with.  I think that's because she knew when I teased her or confronted her, I was seeing through her toughness to the part of her that hurt and the part of her that loved.

Sibyl spent the last weeks of her life in a Portland hospital.  Near the end, I had scheduled a week to record a CD with the Acoustic Guitar Summit.  I considered cancelling the dates because the family was holding a round the clock vigil at her bedside, and we knew she could go at any time.  Everyone insisted that I go ahead with the recording, that Sibyl would have wanted me to.  So, each day I went into the studio with a heavy heart, and emerged each evening not knowing if she was still with us.  After the sessions, I would go to the hospital and be with the family.  On the third day, I brought a tape of the music we had recorded to that point.  It had been days since we had seen signs of consciousness.  Her breathing was agitated and labored.  When I began playing the tape, she started breathing regularly and calmly.  After a few tunes, we listened to Doug Smith's and my duet of Claire de Lune.  Everyone in the family was astonished when, part way through the piece, we looked at Sibyl and saw tears streaming down her cheeks.

Sibyl clung to life longer than anyone expected.  One night, Anna and her sister Judith stayed up with her all night, sure that she was ready to go. She wasn't.  The next night, everyone was exhausted, so I, being the only person who had had any sleep in a while, volunteered to stay up with her. 

After the last person had left for the night, I pulled out my guitar, and began playing Bach.  Again, Sibyl's breathing shifted from labored to relaxed.  I played Bach for nearly an hour.  During that time, I felt an amazing tranquility and peace take over the room.  I played my heart out for Sibyl, and I believe she heard me.  The transcending music of Bach filled us both, told us both this is ok, you can let go, give in, go to wherever the source of this sacred music begins.  When I finished playing, I put my guitar away, and sat down to read a book, still feeling the full depth of the moment.  As I did this, her breathing stopped for nearly twenty seconds. I called the nurse, and she told me I had better call the family.  I did, but while I waited for them to arrive, Sibyl took one more breath, and then breathed no more.

This event will always be one of the more powerful moments of my life.  We play music for so many reasons, on so many different levels.  But how many of us think when we begin to learn an instrument, or as we practice our craft, as we develop our technique and understanding, as we labor to create something strong and beautiful and lasting, that one day we will be called upon to do something as simple and profound as help a loved one to give up the final struggle?

Talk to you soon.

(January 1, 1999) 



Old School, by Paul Chasman and the "Great Gatleys"


Accompanied by Dan and Laurie Gatley on bass and vocals, Paul Chasman returns with 11 new original tunes that will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you think. With his trademark sparkling guitar at the forefront, Paul’s poetic lyrics contrast life and mortality; grief and celebration; and light that penetrates the dark.