View From Table 9

February 9, 2015

Singing through the Veil of Dementia

I spent a good couple of hours tonight putting together a playlist for my mother. Researchers say that music reaches the dementia patient long after recognition fades and language fails. The important thing is to be sure that the music selected be relevant, important, enjoyed by the person who is becoming increasingly distant. That music is the most soothing, brings the most joy, provides the best experience.

The process of building her playlist was full of so much emotion for me. Joy, excitement, melancholy, sadness and hope, all rolled up. I noticed how different her musical tastes were from my father’s and that he bought most of the CDs they had. He is all jazz and crooners. Cleo Lane. Roy Orbison. Preservation Jazz Hall. That was never her music. She loved show tunes, Rogers & Hammerstein, some opera – Pavarotti, Domingo, and Gilbert & Sullivan. Catholic hymns, not to be confused with traditional gospel, which was never her speed. Some of her favorites from the St. Colman’s Guitar Mass days. Tom Lehrer. Andrews Sisters. Glenn Miller. What would reach her? What would move her? What would give her joy?

As the list evolved, I found myself planting little messages to her – do you remember? Summer Stage, the King and I, Shall We Dance, Mom? How about Sweet Mystery of Life, Young Frankenstein, banishing us from the living room because we laughing so hard you couldn’t hear the Jeanette McDonald original being sung? Could I, though this work, not only reach her, but could I communicate with her, tell stories to her, through these choices? It is my most fervent hope, perhaps asking too much, that this be so.

Scrolling through my musical library, I wondered, what would my son pick for me, should I be captured by this beast called dementia? What music would he choose out of the hundreds…ok thousands of titles I have stored in one form or another? How would he tell our story, a story of a mother and child, through song and sound? Could I even choose myself which pieces spoke to my very core, the vibration of my existence? I’m not honestly sure I could curate that list, and I don’t ever want him to have to do for me what I am doing for my mother. I would love to hear that play list one day, though.

For now, I bring her this offering, stored away in a tiny music player, no bigger than a domino. I will give them an armband, a set of good headphones, a charge cord. I will cross my fingers as they press play, hoping that she will understand – why this tune? Oh, remember that song, or at the very least, that the sounds bring smiles for both of us. A mother drifting away, a daughter sending love through the songs sung for her. Soothing the grief felt as mom disappears into the mist. Praying for peace.


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