Saturday, November 28, 2009

Last Musical Moments with Mom

Last night, Billy C and were jamming on our ukes with our friend Victor K on guitar. This was a different kind of jam for us as Victor is a talented musician. I'm not saying that we don't know other talented people, but when you say "take it, Victor," he takes it. In fact, when Billy C or I asked one another to take it, Victor usually took it. The only thing we took was credit.

We finished our set with "So Lonesome I Could Cry," with Billy C singing melody and me singing harmony. It evolved into a meditation of sorts with Vic taking solo duties as we strummed along.

At the end, we began talking about music and its spiritual essence--not the exact words Victor used, but close enough. The main point was that words couldn't really express what he felt. He told us how there was nothing like playing with friends just for the sake of playing.

It made me think of Mom's last couple of years. Do did some research on Alzheimer's and learned that musical memory is something that stays with us even as our other memories leave. Mom didn't have Alzheimer's. She had Parkinson's. But the same truth still holds--at least in her case.

I stayed with her one night at one of the facilities where she had lived. She had had a very bad day and the woman who ran this home didn't know what to do with her. So I stayed the night.

I didn't sleep much because about every half-hour or so, Mom would try to get out of her bed. At the time, she couldn't walk much and getting out of bed would have been disastrous for her. So I'd go over and take her hand and say "Mom, you don't have to get up yet." She'd say "Can I sleep for just one more hour?" I'd say "yes" and then stroke her hair as she lay back down. Eventually, she'd drift back off.

At around 3 AM, while still sleeping, she started singing. Now Mom had studied opera and had been an excellent singer in her day. She sang an aria and, considering she was lying on the bed, she sang in perfect pitch and kept perfect time, her foot tapping out the rhythm as it stuck out from under her blanket.

And she sang the whole thing. At full volume. Sublime.

A year or so later, as her disease progressed, we moved Mom into a rehab center for evaluation. Most of this time, she ate and drank very little and slept a lot. Sometimes, when awake, she would hallucinate. We would be sitting and talking (she, her bed), when she would suddenly get this look of horror on her face. She say "Don't let me go!" and I would hold her hand more tightly while the episode passed. I realized, finally, that she thought that she was walking with me and was losing her balance--that she was falling. So, when it happened again, I'd say, "It's alright, Mom. I've got you," and she'd calm down.

One day, I brought my uke by for a visit and found her asleep. I sat there for awhile, strumming a random chord progression. Lo and behold, Mom started singing with me--again, on pitch, even though my fingers traveled carelessly from chord to chord. No words, just notes. But I felt like we were talking, so I played until she came awoke and talked with me a little bit.

Soon Mom moved to hospice. We kept reminding ourselves that sometimes people go into hospice and they're still around for years.

Once in hospice, she began the three-month decline until her death. In the beginning, she'd drift in and out of consciousness. She'd be out most of the day because, at night, she would go into sundowning mode, staying too antsy to sleep. She said very little during most of my visits.

One time, again armed with my uke, I brought a fake-it book and played some songs for her, many of them hymns. I came across one I didn't know. It had a Latin title. I asked her if she knew it. She then awoke to lecture to me about an aria with a similar sounding title and then sang it to me--again in fill voice, in perfect pitch.

And then fell silent.

That was the last time she sang for me.

Now, I'm thinking of how Billy C and I used to play with our Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and Erector Sets, sometimes building hybrid constructions using all three, while Mom had Madame Butterfly playing on the stereo as she did her housework. We didn't think much of it because we figured that's just what everyone's mother did.

Thanks for the music, Mom. I can hear you still.

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