Life, Death, and Transitions. My 30-year journey back from the Dead.

Life, Death, and Transitions. My 30-year journey back from the Dead.

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A Taste of Life.

It was January, 1986. Only 18 years old, I had just finished my first semester at UConn where I had made the varsity ice hockey team and had quickly built a core group of friends. It was Winter Break, and I had just enjoyed “First Night Boston” with my friends. It was a crazy night of partying – from Landsdowne St to the Boston Common and finally “The Alley“. I vaguely remember stumbling to my brother’s apartment near Northeastern University and sleeping on the floor while Tracy Chapman played over and over on the CD player. What a night – full of life!

A Taste of Death.

It was January 2nd when it hit. A fever of 101 escalated to 104. I remember a vivid hallucination of the devil and his gathering hoards approaching me – wanting to capture my soul. The evil one himself was dressed like a wily-old pirate – donned in an ornate red costume with ruffled sleeves and a tricorn hat. He had piercing black eyes and a black mustache and beard. And..he wanted ME.

At 2 am that night, my parents rushed me to the hospital while I vomited green bile and violently screamed from the pain surrounding my head. My right index finger had turned a deep eggplant-purple. In the emergency room, a fleet of doctors descended as they sped me off on a hospital bed…my head feeling like it was about to explode. I had NEVER felt pain like that. That’s the last I remember….

Diagnosis: Bacterial Meningitis. I was in a comatose state. Death was imminent. My family and anyone who had come in contact were quickly ordered on precautionary meds. The docs could only wait – the antibiotics would either work (I live), or they don’t (I die). I don’t remember how many days I was unconscious, but I’m sure it must have been hell on my parents. I do, however, remember one brief moment during those days. I awoke briefly to see Fr. Walter – a Catholic Priest and good family friend – giving me the last rites. ‘We ask that you receive this child into your arms…” I faintly heard his voice and faded back into my comatose state (*I hear the nearby convent was also busy praying for me).

With Bacterial Meningitis, your body basically dies from the outer limbs. That’s why my index finger had turned purple – it was starting to die. At this point, amputation of limbs often becomes necessary. I was lucky. If my parents had waited even another hour, I would have lost my fingers – perhaps entire limbs (BTW – thanks Mom, those years of nursing paid off!). Everything would have been different. Of course, I could have died all together. I like to think the prayers from Fr. Walter and those kind nuns helped God defeat the Devil in the battle for my soul…

The Transition.

Back at school, I had a constant and annoying ringing in my ears and bright lights gave me headaches. But my body itself recovered fairly quickly. There was a week in February or March when a brilliant white light appeared in the center of my pupils for no apparent reason. I’d have to close my eyes and lie down until it went away. In the coming months, these symptoms would subside. Even so, I had changed. I stopped taking my youth and life for granted. I began volunteering at a Summer camp where a boy could be found with “no arms or legs” (amputated from bacterial meningitis). I began visiting the music department – playing the practice-room pianos just for my own enjoyment. I felt the need to express myself – and playing piano right now provided the most comfort. I soon realized, this is what I should be doing with my life. The next school year, I transferred from Engineering to MUSIC.

Fast Forward. 30 years. Today.

For the last 30 years, I’ve continued to grow my skills – so I can finally feel comfortable saying: “I’m a composer”. “I’m a pianist”. I couldn’t always say this without feeling I hadn’t earned it. Today, things are different. Life’s Transitions have provided me a rich store of experiences and emotions for my inspiration. So, it is with great pride I am announcing the next album in my life’s journey – titled “Transitions”. It took over two years, and 1200 hours of dedicated practice and refinement to complete. More importantly, it took me on an amazing personal spiritual journey – a retrospective of my last 30 years – from the young college kid with no cares in the world, to glimpses of death, to the father of two and the demands of a domestic life. From carefree “pre-cellphone” days of the late 80’s, to today’s onslaught of technology distraction.

To give you some insight, here is a poem by Hensley titled “Invictus” which inspired one of the compositions on the album. It deeply touches me and gives a glimpse into what you can expect.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

 

The Naked Piano – Transitions will be “officially” released to the public this January, 2016 – precisely 30 years after my near-death experience with bacterial meningitis. I’m alive and my journey continues…

 

Please leave your comments and your life experiences – I really enjoy hearing from you!

 

 

 

4 Responses

  1. Lorraine
    | Reply

    Gary, God truly had a plan for your life, one to prosper. God permits suffering in order to draw one closer to him. I’m so happy he gave you a second chance to realize it. Cherish your Catholic faith…it’s precious. Love your music

  2. Dorothy Girouard
    | Reply

    You did it again……made me cry remembering all that you went through…. I know that God has plans for you here on earth through your beautiul music.

  3. Tom Hall
    | Reply

    Gary, thank you for sharing your story and your beautiful, healing music.

  4. […] Read about the story of transformation that accompanies his new album on his official Transitions page, where you can find album details that tells the romantic back-story and track descriptions with embedded 30-second samples. Also it has been 30 years since his near-death experience with bacterial meningitis, which he describes on his blog article. […]

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