Even in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, many people still respond to music.
Ours was a musical family, and many of our gatherings included a hymn sing around the piano. Mom and I liked to stand together so we could harmonize, and sometimes we had our own singing sessions seated side by side on our piano bench at home. When she and Dad came to live with David and me, we took them to church with us every Sunday where, once again, she and I sang side by side. She struggled with some of the contemporary choruses, but she remembered the old hymns.
The senior adult ministry at our church had a monthly luncheon that always included some sort of entertainment. Once in a while that took the form of a hymn sing, and one afternoon, someone requested “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” It was one of “our” songs, one of the first songs we sang together. As we sang, our eyes met, and just for a moment, her eyes cleared and my mother was there, as she had been before Alzheimer’s. It didn’t last long. As the clarity faded from her eyes, she continued to sing, but I couldn’t make a sound past the lump in my throat. A couple of years later, there was another hymn sing, but Mom didn’t show up. She was physically present, and she sang along, but she stumbled over some of the words, and when our eyes met, there was no clarity.
Later, when Mom moved to assisted living, I spent a lot of my visiting time just sitting with her. One afternoon we were in the common area, and the TV was on one of the Gaither Gospel music shows. Without conscious thought, I started singing along, and Mom joined in. Her words were garbled and incoherent except when she came to the word “Jesus.” There was no connection between us, but every time Jesus’ name came up in a song, she smiled and sang out clearly and with conviction.
Her love of music continued to the end. When my brother played his guitar for her, she clapped in rhythm of hummed a line of harmony. When she passed away, the staff who took care of her sent a card with personal notes scribbled inside. One said “I’ll never forget dancing with her and listening to her hum to the songs at church.” Mom loved music, and she loved Jesus. Alzheimer’s didn’t stand a chance against that combination.