It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything about the amazing and delightful dementia patients I sing with and to. Every time I visit, I come away smiling and humbled. So let me tell you about a few of them.
First of all, there is the lovely Alice, who is always alert and very happy to have me come in and sing. Although she tells me that she can’t sing herself, as soon as I start with one of the classic hymns, she is belting it out at the top of her lungs with gusto and enthusiasm. Not necessarily on key, but that is of absolutely no importance when we’re making our “joyful noise” together! She often asks if I know her parents, whom she believes are living there where she is. She loves talking about her father – a farmer – who works so hard, and about how he and her mother met at the University of Texas. She always asks me to tell them hello when I see them, and I always ask her to do the same.
Next there is my wonderful friend Beverly. Beverly is usually a little grouchy when I walk in, but invariably brightens up when I remind her that I’m her “singing friend”. She says she thinks about me a lot in between visits and says she keeps the business card with my photo by her bed so she’ll “be ready” when I come. She doesn’t remember my name or the names of her children, but she remembers the words to all the songs I sing, and either sings along with me or taps out the rhythm with her hands. Before I leave we always sing “our song”, Side By Side. You know… “We’re travelin’ along, singing a song, side by side!”
A couple weeks ago I met two sweet women for the first – and last – time. One was Mimi, who I was told mostly sleeps and rarely speaks. And when I arrived she appeared to be sleeping quite deeply. When that’s the case, I still sing for a while because sometimes people wake up, and if not, I believe they’re still hearing the music in their dreams. I sang several hymns, because I saw a Christian book by Mimi’s bedside, but I also sang some “fun” songs because a photograph of her from years ago showed a bright and laughter-filled woman with a twinkle in her eye. But still, Mimi slept on. Until in the middle of Let Me Call You Sweetheart, when she turned toward me, eyes still closed and said, “You have such a pretty voice.” Wow.
Shortly after I left Mimi, the staff of the facility called me in to sing with Zelma. They told me she’d taken a turn and wasn’t expected to live through the day, but that her daughter who was at her bedside, thought she might enjoy having me sing to her. So I sat with both of them, holding each of their hands and sang all the songs I could think of – hymns, love songs, lullabies, WWII songs, show tunes. When I left, her daughter hugged me and said how much it meant to have me sing to her mom. Truthfully, I suspect it was just nice for her to feel that she/we were doing something when, in fact, there was really nothing to do but wait.
A few days later I learned that both Zelma and Mimi had passed away. And it makes me smile – and humbles me – that I was allowed to meet them and have a tiny part to play in such precious time of their lives.