Moments shared.

A few months ago I muddled through a string of down days. Nothing specific was wrong, but nothing was right either. I sought help from family, friends, doctor, therapist. I grabbed myself by the scruff of the neck and gave myself a talking to as well. Then, I had an “aha!” moment.

Peter was watching tennis when I left him that day. He waved me off and stayed in front of the tv. He didn’t mind that I left. The next day, when I picked him up to go on a picnic with Leslie and Martin, I suddenly, aha, got it.

You see, when I collect him to go for coffee or to the car wash or lunch, I feel guilty because when I arrive the other residents are usually parked in front of the tv or tottering up and down the hall aimlessly. Many don’t seem to have visitors very often, if ever, although there are a lot of hours when I’m not there so I don’t really know.

Peter and I go out the locked door leaving them behind—it’s like picking one puppy over another, I think. Guilt swamps me because I can’t take them too, yet sometimes I can barely deal with my own husband, much less with someone else.

But Sunday when I walked in the residents—Peter included much to my surprise—were batting a balloon around and laughing hysterically. What could I do but laugh with them? Always the clown, Peter tried some of his practiced soccer maneuvers while sitting in a chair. Activities like this may happen often, but this was the first time I’d witnessed it. Aha, I thought.

No sooner had the balloon floated away than a man came in, pulled the piano to the center of the room and started playing and singing familiar old songs: You are my sunshine; Row, Row Row Your Boat; Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do; Shine on harvest  moon and on and on non-stop for nearly an hour. The nurses and aides clowned to the music, chair-danced with the residents, and everyone joined the singsong or tapped their feet. I even got Peter to dance with me. He remembered those moves too, although he said he wouldn’t try to “dip” me. Funny, he seemed to remember he’d dropped me once.

Two days earlier the activities personnel had organized a fall festival, complete with games and food, crafts and music, baby animals and even antique cars. Fun-filled late summer days! Moments to remember…

January to December, we’ll have moments to remember…
the New Year’s Eve we did the town…
the ballroom prize we almost won…
though summer turns to winter…and the present disappears…
the laughter we were glad to share…
will echo through the years…

Excerpted lines from “Moments to Remember,” Al Stillman and Robert Allen, music and lyrics, 1955.

Header photo: Peter and Nobby walk in the mountains, 2015.

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Mama’s happy when she cries the blues.

Peter’s eyes sparkled, his foot tapped and his lips smiled when he heard the tinkling sounds of Jelly Roll Morton jivin’ on the piano. He recognized the music instantly and that just made my day.

I don’t cry easily, but my husband lit up when he recognized ol’ Jelly Roll and that light-fingered style he had. And I sniffled, no, I cried. I’d finally taken his music player—his Christmas gift—back to him loaded with his longtime jazz favorites from the 1920s .

Ma Rainey did her “thang” and belted out “Black Bottom Blues,” then Al Hirt laid on “Bourbon Street” and Jelly Roll must’ve plumb wore his fingers out all the way from “Doctor Jazz” to “Grandpa’s Spells,” some 18 cuts later.

I asked him if he knew the lyrics or the titles, but he laughed and shook his head no. “I remember the music though,” he said, nodding to the beat. When Louie Armstrong started warbling “High Society,” he attempted to sing along. His imitation of “Satchmo” was still as off key as ever and he bumbled the words as he always did, but he was happy.

Funny, one of his favorite CDs is “Jazz the World Forgot.” My husband may not remember much these days, but he hasn’t forgotten his passion for the sounds of the raucous, roaring twenties.

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

‘Orange juice for the ear.’

This observation about the late Oliver Sacks’ book Musicophillia (2007) struck just the right note when I read it:

… music can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia.”

Before Thanksgiving last year, I mentioned to our grandson Miah that I’d been searching for a very simple device that would enable his granddad to hear his favorite music. A few weeks later, he posted an article on Facebook that explained  the positive effect of music on the brains of people with dementia. Carolynn saw our Facebook exchange and within few minutes she forwarded a link to me. She was excited. “I think this would work for Poppy,” she wrote.

Fifteen minutes later I was in The Alzheimer’s Store and, yes, she’d found the perfect solution. The Simple Music Player is a reinforced, sturdy little thing with the retro charm of the radio that sat on my nightstand when I was a teenager. Lift the lid to start the music, push the big black button to change to another song, and shut the lid to turn it off. It comes loaded with familiar 1940s big band sounds and songs. Plus, a USB cable is included so that the caregiver can add favorite music. And, I should add, it’s Made in England.

Before I went to bed that night, I’d ordered the player. A few days later it was on my doorstep. Quite honestly, I wanted to keep it! The sound is outstanding, it is very easy to use and, best of all, neither I.D. nor password are required to use it. But I did put it under the Christmas tree for my husband.

Unfortunately, I have yet to download Peter’s favorite old albums, but I’ve got his extensive list at the ready: Jazz that the world forgot, 1920’s classics; The best of Jelly-Roll Morton; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Louis Armstrong, The Hot Fives; Absolutely the Best of the Blues; Count Basie One O’Clock Jump; Bessie Smith; Cab Calloway Forever Gold; Armstrong and King Oliverto name just a fraction of the hundreds in his collection.

Christmas night, I managed to entice Peter to dance to one of the oh-so-danceable songs. It was the first time in years that we’d “tripped the light fantastic.” Our intent was good, but our feet were laughably clumsy.


Be sure to turn sound up.

Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears—it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more—it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.” Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.