Last March, the superb Chicago jazz singer Grazyna Auguscik was rehearsing for one of the biggest concerts of her career, in her native Poland, when she received the worst news of her life.
Her partner of more than 20 years, Marek Bajson, had been killed as he stood alongside his car on the shoulder of Mannheim Road, near O'Hare International Airport. A woman who admitted she had been drinking tried to pass a vehicle, swerved, struck Bajson's car and then him, according to a Tribune report. Bajson, who had been waiting for a friend to bring gasoline for Bajson's car, died at the scene.
When Augusick learned what happened, she was on her way to her Warsaw hotel room after rehearsal for a concert that would be broadcast across Poland.
It was "the most tragic day of my life," recalls Auguscik, who this weekend embarks on a series of performances that will include a tribute to Bajson.
"I didn't know what I am going to do. The first thought was to jump on the plane the next morning and go back to Chicago. But thanks to my friends, Chicago friends … they told me that I should play the concert because Marek was waiting for this concert. …
"I didn't hear what they said, I didn't sleep much. The next morning came, some makeup artists put on makeup, which I destroyed immediately.
"I went for the final rehearsal, the sound check, didn't sing much, couldn't sing. I was too emotional," adds Auguscik, who was participating in a tribute to the great Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski.
"The hour before the concert, something happened to me, like some kind of energy locked my emotions. Like you are inside a bubble."
Auguscik went on stage and sang what she calls "the most difficult" concert of her life and afterward was "trying to hide all the emotions" she felt.
But, of course, when she returned to Chicago she had to face her loss.
"It's very tough to come back to an empty place," says Auguscik. "The thing I missed most is the conversation. You lose the person that you shared your thoughts (with). When I was on the road, I really loved to call him and talk about things. It's very difficult without that. You can talk with your friends, but it's not the same.
"The first year people said is (most) difficult. I was sick the first time without Marek. ... You have to welcome the first time winter, first summer, first spring and fall. So it's going to be always the first time, and then you're used to it.
"That's how it is. I know everybody has to face it someday, to lose the closest (person).
"But for me it's only one problem: It's too soon and suddenly."
For Auguscik, the loss was all the greater because Bajson was not only her partner but also a kind of kindred spirit in her life's work. He designed graphics for her web site, Facebook page, albums and posters. He regularly pursued people who sold copies of her music without permission and he guarded her other interests.
As she said during his funeral, Bajson "gave me the energy that I needed to sustain my personal needs and my professional passions. So often, he lived his life through mine, always by my side, in flesh or in spirit."
So Auguscik now battles to rebuild her life.
She hastens to note, however, that she has at least one indestructible ally in her quest to recover: music.
This weekend she will play two major shows, and she's busily planning a memorial concert for Bajson on March 22 at the Jesuit Millennium Center on West Irving Park Road.
"Music helps me a lot – music is my therapy," says Auguscik, who has invited many Chicago musicians who have worked with her through the years to play the memorial. She also hopes to display at the event some of Bajson's graphics work, which she's continually discovering on his computer late at night.