LOVE NEVER LEAVES
Updated: May 15
The song, “Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra played in the background as people, one by one, slowly entered the brightly lit activity room. The annual “Summer Solstice Happy Hour Celebration” was about to begin.
About 12 square tables, all set for four were scattered throughout the room. Craftily decorated in red, white and blue streamers, plates, cups and napkins all matching the Fourth of July theme, made the room come alive. American flags were scattered about on tables and taped to walls. Others were tucked into small white vases that sat on the tabletops. Gold streamers dangled from the ceiling. The late afternoon sun shining through a wall of windows, made the gold streamers that hung from the ceiling glitter like gold, as they twirled. Folded walkers lined the back wall.
Eddy Hawthorne Ridge— has been home to my 87-year-old mother for a year now. Navigation is not easy for her, even though she has walked this hallway daily for the last year. I placed my arm around her elbow as she steered her walker. We entered the room together and while she took her seat, I brought her walker over to the back wall and added it to the others. Already seated in the room were about thirty other people— men and women. Most were elderly residents of this unit. A scattered number of family members, like me, were present for the celebration. The room was beaming with about sixty people in total.
Most residents of this memory care unit were dressed in fleece sweatshirts even though it was 86 degrees out. All had very sensible walking shoes on, and at least half of the room wore either something colored red or blue. If happiness had a smell, it permeated the air.
The entertainment for the two-hour event was a single guitar player in the front of the room with a large black speaker to the side of him. He greeted everyone by saying—“Who likes Frank Sinatra?” Loud claps and cheers came from the crowd. My mom and I looked at each other and smiled. Throughout the two-hour celebration, the solo guitarist/ singer who resembled a fifty-year-old hippie, with his long grey hair pulled back into a ponytail and a vest covering his plaid shirt, sang songs by Fats Domino, Johnny Cash, and a favorite of the group Elvis Presley.
While the activities director and other employees were serving Orange/ mango sangria with slices of orange that dangled on the edge of the wine glass, sweetened iced tea with lemon, and non-alcohol Bush beer. My mom and I chose the sangria. Many residents made their way to the center of the room and started dancing, some alone, some together.
My mom and others sang all of the words of a majority of the songs. As I looked around the room reveling in the joy of this crowd, I noticed one resident whom I have come to know fairly well during my visits over the past year, who was usually pretty quiet— come alive. So animated. Smiling, she swung her legs back and forth while singing the words of the song that played. No matter which song it was, she knew every word. I felt a warmness in my heart and savored in her happiness.
On the other side of the room, I noticed a woman with the brightest white hair, that I have ever seen. Not the cloudy, smoky colored grey. Hers resembled the look and feel of a big puffy cumulus cloud, that I had seen recently on a plane flight. She was sobbing—locked in her own memories. I wondered if her memories were happy or sad. Other residents had blank stares.
What I learned that day was that— music is more than therapeutic. And, I would learn later that
The key brain areas linked to music memory are not affected by Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. The brain has a different focus while listening to music. Music stimulates memories. It can bring a person back to a time and place where happiness lives. Through the power of music, the person gets to experience being restored back to his or herself. Music provides opportunities for reminiscing— which reduces stress and anxiety.
I also learned how to live in the moment that warm, sunny summer day. Living in the moment brought clarity to the bigger picture for me. And, for that I will be forever gratefu