Music, Longevity and French folk songs

It broke my heart to see her banging on the small drum, long after the music had stopped. Her automatic, auto-pilot striking of the instrument, oblivious not only to the silence but also to her own banging and movements. I pictured the old Alda, the one who used to say “people live too long!” And now she was one of them, a person who, in her old estimation, had extended her visit beyond what was acceptable.

Do I look at her current situation through the lens of the older Alda, or through that of the newer (and actually much older) one? Do I pity her for living longer than that Alda thought she should, or do I take joy in the gifts that she still has, those that she still gives, and the things that she can still do? 

People will say, often cavalierly, “shoot me if I get like that.” But could it be that, from one lens, the lens of a middle-aged or older person with all of her faculties intact, a situation looks pathetic and dire but to someone in the situation, it’s not actually that bad?

Everyone’s terrified of dementia. I used to be too. Perhaps it’s somewhat insincere of me to think so, but in my quiet private moments I think that there are worse fates, worse ways to decline and die than that of my mother. She is not suffering. She is not having existential death angst. She is not anxious. She is not worried. She is in the moment, each moment quickly moved through and forgotten. Is it really better to be dying and know that you are dying? To be in pain and fully conscious? Maybe it’s ok to hug and love a little pink pig, as she does, to kiss it and arrange its tail at breakfast, to be confused by toast and riveted by a napkin’s folds. I don’t know. But living it every day, as I do with her, I can imagine worse.

When Alda stopped banging the drum, the music therapist brought out some old French folk songs. Accompanied by her guitar, I sang them loudly, in Mom’s ear, with great articulation. She shifted, she recognized. She sang with me. And, for the duration of “Au Clair de la Lune,” she was there.

Written by Lea Haravon Collins

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Sue McCann