He lay there with his beard and his tattoos, strumming the guitar. A 29-year-old artist, too tired to sketch and paint his magnificent art anymore. Too weak to create the same sweet music he’d made all his life.
Yet, Lance Wright was playing a guitar from his hospital bed, sporadically waking up to sing Nirvana. His body was failing him. His talent wasn’t.
But this would be his last musical performance.
“He got to strum the guitar and feel that one more time,” said Jill Wright, Lance’s mother, who lives in Princeton, Ind. “And, gosh, he loved that. Music was such a part of his soul.”
Wright died days later at IU Health University Hospital, his body giving in to complications from his addictions, the opiates and alcohol he just couldn’t ward off.
He died Oct. 29 with a guitar by his side, a hospital guitar that IU Health music therapist Tony Medeiros had brought him to play. They played together as Wright’s family wept and laughed, as they found joy in his life and grieved his final days.
And then, as his hospital room was cleaned out, that guitar was sent with Wright’s body to the funeral home. It wasn’t supposed to be sent there. It was a mistake.
Jill Wright didn’t think it was a mistake at all.
“We thought this was a sign,” she said. “This guitar came here for a reason. It’s got to be a sign from Lance.”
It would turn out to be much more than a sign. This was a fascinating tale of a guitar that would symbolize the power of music and the amazing circle of life.
Tom Young had played guitar his entire life. For decades, he had captivated Indianapolis audiences with his music. He wasn’t just some local musician. He was a performer. This was his career and it was how he made a living. He breathed music and he adored the guitar.
So in January, as 63-year-old Young was dying inside IU Health Simon Cancer Center of leukemia, he kept playing the guitar. He played the Eagles and America’s “Ventura Highway.” He played all those classic rock songs with Medeiros. The two became a duo, entertaining a crowd of cancer patients every Friday.
“I can’t overstate just how good he was, how talented he was,” Medeiros said of Young. “People loved to listen to him.”
In Young’s final days, the guitar was all he had left. His trachea failed him.
“He couldn’t sing,” said Desiree Swaim, Young’s daughter. “So that guitar meant so much to him. It meant so much that he was able to play that.”
Young died after a magical Christmas in the hospital with his family. He died 10 months before Wright. He never got to meet the man that shared his musical passions.
But in death, he would be intertwined with the young musician -- tied together by a man named Tony.
It was just a few days after Wright died in November. Medeiros realized that the hospital guitar he had loaned to Wright was missing. And then he got a call from Wright’s mom.
She had the guitar. It had been sent with Lance’s body and she felt like that was a sign. Wright didn’t have kids of his own but he loved his nieces and nephews. And his 17-year-old nephew, Zane, had just taken an interest in the guitar. He was taking lessons, but he didn’t have his own instrument.
“I think Lance probably orchestrated the guitar coming home,” Jill Wright said. “Zane wanted a guitar. It was provided in the most amazing way. Amazing.”
Jill Wright offered to buy the guitar from IU Health, but Medeiros said the hospital didn’t want money for it. They decided to gift the guitar to the Wright family.
The move left Medeiros with a full heart, but a major void. His loaner guitar was gone.
It was a void he didn’t have much time to think about. Because, before he knew it, this story took a miraculous turn.
A Facebook message popped up on Medeiros’ account just days after his hospital guitar had been given to the Wright family. It was from a guy named Chris Young -- Young as in Tom Young’s son. Chris had been scouring the internet looking for this musician named Tony who meant so much to his dad in his final days.
The note almost knocked Medeiros out of his chair. It was unbelievable. Chris Young and his sister, Desiree Swaim, were writing because they wanted to donate one of their dad’s guitars to IU Health.
Young had told Desiree and Chris about this amazing guy named Tony. He told them about how much it meant to be able to give the patients some joy with a guitar, even as his voice failed him.
He didn’t say it outright to his kids. But they knew. Their dad would love to have the patients at IU Health keep hearing music, keep hearing that guitar and keep Tony’s mission thriving.
On Thursday evening, Chris and Desiree came to IU Health Simon Cancer Center with not one guitar, but two, to give to Medeiros.
He was beyond grateful. And he was beaming as they thanked him for all he had done. But Medeiros said he knew all of this really had little to do with him.
“Music, it’s such an integral part of these people’s lives that even in the afterlife, they are talking about it,” Medeiros said. “This is Lance and Tom making this happen. I mean, how else do you explain this?”