One of the last things I did with my mother was enjoy some music. Sitting next to her whirring, plastic hospital bed, I picked up her iPod and some portable speakers borrowed from my uncle and decided to play a little game. I asked her if she would play and she nodded in agreement. I played “God Only Knows” and waited for a few seconds, asking her, “Who is this?” After a pause, she looked at me and over me, and her face slowly hosted a smile. “The Beach Boys,” she whispered. From there I continued, from Reba McEntire to The Beatles, strolling through her music, the music she had given me. A few times she couldn’t remember the artist or repeated the previous answer. Sometimes she didn’t listen. I played less than a minute of each song, hoping she would answer, but in the end I didn’t care whether she got it right. I just wanted to listen to all of those songs with her, all the way through, all night.

A little over a year ago, Andrea was diagnosed with colon cancer. She underwent two waves of chemo, a false “all-clear” from the doctors and months of stress. After learning the chemo was ineffective and the that cancer had metastasized into her chest and lymph nodes, she stopped working and had to be hospitalized. She passed away late last week in Providence Hospital in Southfield, the same hospital at which she spent most of her working life.

In her last week, all my family could do was keep things comfortable. She had undergone weeks of pain, medication and optimistic return-home dates. She lost her voice, her appetite and much of her ability to communicate with us. Every day was different and every day was tough.

During the month I spent visiting her, it hurt seeing her change drastically from week to week. Each visit seemed years apart. Last night, I was clearing out my phone’s voice mail, and the last message left was from her, with an upbeat voice, wondering where I was, what I was up to, when I was coming to see her again.

When I realized the worst thing I could do was visit her and sob, I focused on celebrating what she’s done for me and all of the great many things she was. She gave me big things: time, money, love, life … and little things, too. Of all those things, the one I think of most often is music.

I have both blurry and pristine memories of dancing to The Immaculate Collection on Sundays, as she cleaned windows, sang along, dancing with my sister and me as we turned Madonna’s “Material Girl” into “Cheerio Girl.” I remember being strapped in a car seat on long drives set to Les Misérables and Phantom Of the Opera cassettes. Jazz on WDET. The occasional classical. Motown. Being terrified and aroused by the red nails and lips on the ecstatic chick on the cover of The Cars‘ first album. Watching her stumble through old Oscar & Hammerstein sheets, Christmas standards and songs I have forgotten on the piano. Learning to live with Reba and Andrea Bocelli.

Looking back, she gave me more than just a variety of music — she gave me her love for it. Music has always been a part of our house, and all different kinds of it. My father keeps pretty close to the rock realms of the late ’60s and ’70s, but my mom was schizophrenic in comparison. Even better, she was unashamed of her tastes. There were no obstacles when it came to music. It was simple. She enjoyed it, she loved it and she lived, breathed and gave it all to me and everyone she ever met.

One of the last times I could talk to my mother, she asked me to sing a song for her. I sing now and have since high school, but this was the hardest request I had ever been faced with. My sister and I were definitely too fragile to carry a tune at the time, and we had no idea what to sing. In minutes, she drifted off the subject and into sleep. Inside I felt terrible, torn apart, and I wanted desperately to do what I have done for her so many times before. There were so many songs I could have sung and so many memories that raced through my head. I could have chosen anything … but no song would have been good enough.

In her last week, my mother said many things that didn’t make sense. They were observations, questions, indecipherable repeated phrases. Once, she repeatedly whispered, “Will you write me a letter?” I crumbled. Years ago, I wrote her a letter I had planned to deliver to her in that last week, when we knew she wouldn’t leave that whirring, plastic bed. By that time, it was too late. She could never read it, and I never got the chance to read it to her.

But I’ve come to realize I still have plenty of time to write and send her letters. I consider this the first of many. And that song? All those songs? Every one I sing now is for her. Why else would I be singing?

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