Here’s an update on my singing with elders and dementia patients: For those who care about my ability to make a (modest) living doing what I love, I’m happy to report that I’m now working three days a week, so have achieved a level of “predictable income” which would make my dear departed mentor Haven very relieved. I’m also doing what I love which makes me – and my spiritual director Jean – very happy as well.
But on a more emotional level, this has been a tough week. I just lost two very dear friends. (An unexpected side-effect of this “job” is that people I grow close to die at a frequent, albeit somewhat predictable, rate.) And within a week’s time, Eve and June passed away, so I offer my reflections.
Eve was a fun, funny, warm, and welcoming woman who suffered from dementia apparently brought on by Parkinson’s disease. (I don’t know too much about her back story which I usually learn from obituaries, because her family chose something extremely brief.) So all I know is from our interactions starting about three months ago when she welcomed me into her room as a total stranger who had come to sing.
We bonded quickly, in part because we like the same songs: 30’s & 40’s pop, as well as a variety of hymns. Eve knew the words to virtually any song I suggested, but the hymns were her favorites which seems to be true for many of my elder friends.
But she was also quick with a joke or funny story. When I asked her permission to address her by her first name of Evelyn, she said, “Call me Evelyn, call me Eve, just don’t call me late for supper!” When I asked where she was born, she promptly replied, “In a taxicab,” and proceeded to tell me the story of her mother’s harrowing cab ride through the streets of Chicago where Eve was unexpectedly born. She also took some delight in relating her encounter with a doctor at some point in her life who – like me – asked her where she’d been born. When she replied with her taxicab answer, she was tickled when the doctor replied, “No kidding? So was I!” I mean, really, what are the odds?
In late February, a few weeks before she died, I stopped in to see Eve as usual and she was unusually delighted. She said, “Today is Easter!” I’ve learned with dementia patients that it’s best to enter their reality, so we spent our time together talking about Easter – how we celebrate, what food we cook and eat, and of course, what songs we sing. And together we sang our favorite Easter hymns. The next few weeks, every time we got together, she would mention, “I saw you on Easter,” to which I would always agree.
Eve was one of those people I sing with for whom death did not seem imminent – at least to me – so when I got the notification that she had died rather suddenly, I was very surprised and saddened. But of course, I was happy for her that she had been released from her limited physical state and had gone on to whatever is next.
And I can assure you that on Easter Sunday 2016, I will be singing to and with my dear departed friend Eve…or Evelyn…but I will not call her late for Easter supper!
I’ll tell you about my other dear departed friend in my next post. But **spoiler alert** if you happen to hear someone singing The Old Rugged Cross, it’s probably June.