36: Songs of Remembrance

36: Songs of Remembrance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

Songs of Remembrance

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

~Berthold Auerbach

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011, but her condition didn’t progress quickly until she lost her first child, my oldest sister Mary Ann, to colon cancer. At that time, despite excellent medical and moral support, the disease progressed rapidly.

Right now she is still living in her own home in Massachusetts, with constant care from my siblings and her grandchildren who live nearby. The siblings like me who live farther away are regularly scheduled to provide respite. I live about three hours away by car and my opportunity to care for our mother comes every third Monday for twenty-four hours. I use the word “opportunity” because as one of twelve children, I feel blessed and privileged to attend to this wonderful woman who so influenced my life.

But despite being an adult with a family of my own and a whole congregation who look to me for comfort and leadership, I miss my mom. I am accustomed to her being a source of wisdom, joy, and encouragement in my life. At this point I find myself in deep need of all three. Last year I not only lost Mary Ann, who was like a second mother to me, but I also lost four dear friends, and had neighbors who passed on as well.

Then, just months later, I experienced one of the most horrific tragedies of our time, as I live and serve in Newtown, Connecticut. The unfathomable losses involved in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre have deeply affected hundreds of people I love, including my two young children who attend public school in the same town. Before, in times of difficulty, my mother was the person I could always turn to for guidance and comfort.

Recently, as I made the long drive to my mother’s home, I found myself praying to God: “Dear Lord, would you please show me a sign of your Spirit still at work in her life and your joy still emanating from her heart? I am in deep need of encouragement.”

That day, our time together seemed about as routine as it could be. When I picked her up to take her to the hairdresser she asked the usual questions about who I was and where we were going. She also asked, as she does frequently, whether or not I am married and have any children. (My wife and daughters were the happy recipients of my mother’s love in the years prior to Alzheimer’s.)

Later, as we drove along to run a few more errands, I looked over at her while at a red light and noticed she had completely zoned out. I could tell she was unaware and oblivious to her surroundings. I felt so disheartened. But then I had a flashback from when I was six years old in a summer camp run by our Catholic church. My mother volunteered there and she led a lot of singing. I recalled something I had read in one of the many helpful books from the Alzheimer’s Association: People with Alzheimer’s often won’t remember recent conversations, but they will remember old songs. While I was driving, one of the songs my mother taught me at that camp nearly forty years ago popped into my mind:

Thank You Lord for giving us love,

Thank You Lord for giving us love,

Thank You Lord for giving us love, right where we are.

Alleluia, praise The Lord.

Alleluia, praise The Lord.

Alleluia, Praise The Lord, right where we are!

The words of this song came tumbling out of my mouth as I sang out loud in my car. My mother’s eyes lit up and she woke from her daze. Then she began to sing. She not only remembered the tune, but all the lyrics, too. She didn’t miss a beat.

We wound up singing several songs from that long ago camp. She praised Our Savior in whose spirit we sang. Her voice was so loud that I could have sworn the kids in the car next to ours were joining the chorus. I was flooded with joy for this moment that was musical and magical.

At last, when our singing subsided, this lovely lady sighed, looked at me, and asked, “Who taught you these songs?”

I responded, “My mother did.”

She took a deep breath and exclaimed, “Your mother must be a very wonderful woman! I’m sure I would love her if I knew her!”

I chuckled at this and said, “She still is and you sure would!”

I felt I had my mom back then. Even more importantly, I knew my Father in Heaven had answered my prayer for my mother on earth. It was the best gift I could have received during this season of my soul.

~Jim Solomon

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