Knowing when it's time to say goodbye, not because I don't love – but because I do

In 1998, four years into my life as a single mother, I bought a used upright piano for my daughter. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I could fly.

For two years, from age 9, Cait had talked about wanting to learn how to play the piano. She usually spoke about it in whispers, as if she were talking to hovering angels who maybe could make it happen. I made a point of never talking to her about money concerns, but she could read the map of worry of her mother’s face.

Up to that point, too many stories unspooling in my head were propelled by one theme: I am failing my daughter. My son was already grown, but somehow my 7-year-old daughter seemed even younger after it was just the two of us. Divorce, no matter how necessary, can shrink a family’s world. I was so frantic to build a life in our spare, smaller space that it took a while for me to see all the windows that had blown open wide.

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Just before Christmas

My daughter wanted a piano, and something unpredictable happened to make it possible. For my work on a yearlong project, I received a bonus. Not a big one, but big enough. Finally, I could feel the wind at my back.

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A newsroom colleague who knew a lot about pianos helped me find a good one that I could afford, just before Christmas. It would not be delivered until after the new year, but I wanted to give Cait something gift-wrapped to let her know it was coming.

I found it in downtown Cleveland at the San Francisco Music Box Company store. The snow globe’s base resembles a piano keyboard. Inside, under the falling snow, three white kittens frolic on a black grand piano. Cait unwrapped it and wound the key. To this day, I hear its tinkly "Canon in D" and see the smile on my little girl’s face after I had said her piano was on its way.

Connie Schultz gave her daughter a snow globe for Christmas to let her know that she would be getting a piano delivered after the holiday.
Connie Schultz gave her daughter a snow globe for Christmas to let her know that she would be getting a piano delivered after the holiday.

That piano has known a lot of living since the day mighty men carried it into its first home with our family. It has moved four times, first to my musician son’s house after I remarried Sherrod, who owned his mother’s piano, and Cait said she no longer needed it. When my son and his family moved to a faraway island, the piano stayed with a friend for a while. Eventually, it found its way back to me.

And now, it’s time to say goodbye. Not because I don’t love it, but because I do.

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The sadness of a silent piano

I don’t play, but I am ever hopeful for the guest who does. My husband used to play, but he seldom has the time to practice anymore, which has made him a guilty pianist. Home should be a refuge, not a reprimand.

There is something unbearably sad about a silent piano, I’ve learned. Last week, I looked at it standing against the wall, loyal and quiet, and decided it deserved better than us. Within days, I had arranged for its move to the local Goodwill, where I hope someone else will discover it as their dream come true.

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Connie Schultz's children, Andy and Cait, at her daughter's new piano, soon after it was delivered.
Connie Schultz's children, Andy and Cait, at her daughter's new piano, soon after it was delivered.

On the morning of its move, I removed all the framed family photos from its top and polished it one more time. I sat down on the bench and thought of all the times our young grandchildren have pounded out their own music, loudly. I fiddled a bit with the keys and thanked our old piano out loud.

Three kind, strong men showed up to carry it out, and for the first time I saw that our piano had handles in the back to help with moves. All those years ago, I was too excited for its arrival to notice, I guess. This time, I watched its every move as it made its slow and steady journey out the door and into the truck.

I was sitting on the front porch with the crew member in charge, initialing multiple pages of consent, when I heard it. One of the men was playing the piano inside the truck.

I didn’t recognize the song and didn’t care. I just closed my eyes and listened to my daughter’s piano singing goodbye.

USA TODAY columnist Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize winner whose novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” is a New York Times bestseller. You can reach her at CSchultz@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @ConnieSchultz

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Listening to our piano say goodbye: Letting go of family heirlooms