Irene is a resident at a local nursing facility that I visit nearly each week. Over the past 3 years, she has shared stories of her life as a housewife, mother and aviator. I’ll never forget the story about her solo flight across the United States in 1939. She has a photo of her plane and a citation certifying her achievement on her wall!
Irene loves music and always stops what she is doing to listen to my music. She loves Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennet, Broadway and movie scores.
But this week, Irene didn’t recognize me with her usual greeting. Instead, she invited me to sit down for a few minutes while she finished her lunch. As I have done for so many Alzheimer’s patients, I re-introduced myself and played some of her favorite songs in hopes of ‘reaching’ her.
As I played, Irene would occasionally look up, politely acknowledge my presence and return to her soup. Songs that used to produce warm smiles now seemed unfamiliar. 20 minutes into our session, it was as if the music was going in one ear and out the other.
Suddenly, she put her spoon down and stared at me with a quizzical expression. She fixed her gaze on me, trying to decide what to think of this man with a guitar sitting in her room. Then the fog of her disease parted and her room filled with the familiar light and warmth of her beautifully contagious smile.
‘How Lovely!’ she exclaimed as I played an arrangement of ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’. For the next 15 minutes, she was the Irene I had known and grown to love. Tapping her feet and dancing her index fingers to the tempo of the music, Irene was warm, engaging, and filled with a love of music and life. It was a gift!
I don’t know how Irene will respond when I visit her again, but I come with no expectation other than to love and serve her as she is. Therapeutic Music is like a beacon, shining in the darkness; searching for those who may be lost in the abyss of Alzheimer’s. Regardless of her response, I will continue to share the gift of music with a desire and prayer to comfort and encourage her.
For now, I rejoice that I was able to help Irene find her way back, to land safely once again in the present; even if only for a moment.