A few years ago, my quartet "Solid Ground" was asked to sing at an Alzheimer Support Group event where about 30 early-onset Alzheimer and dementia patients and their care partners would attend, perhaps 60-70 people in all. Almost all were husbands and wives. The organizers requested, given that most of the people attending would have been young adults in the 50's and 60's, that we sing music from that era. We specialized in that era so I selected several songs from our repertoire that I thought would feel "warm and fuzzy" to these couples: You're 16, Happy Together, Wonderful World, Lion Sleeps Tonight, Pretty Woman, Rhythm of the Rain, Only You, Under The Boardwalk, Stand By Me, Lean On Me. Many songs I hoped would have a particular resonance for the patients as well as for their loving spouses in attendance beside them.
The songs we chose were a hit. The reception we received was warm and genuine and the interaction we saw between the patients and their spouses - the loving glances, the holding of hands, the arms around one another, the heads gently touching together, the nods of recognition as we began each song - were wonderful to witness. The number of people who sang along with nearly every song was also fun to see. Knowing that our efforts were so appreciated and effective at reaching these particular people reminded us why we sing in the first place.
That would have been magical enough but there would be more. At a social afterwards, one lady came up to me and clasped my two hands in hers. She said to me "I wanted to thank you personally and tell you something special. Tonight you made my husband cry, and he never cries. This was the first time he has been able to cry since the diagnosis. I think he is finally coming to terms with what we know is ahead. Those songs perfectly expressed how I feel about him, especially Stand By Me and Lean On Me." Then she added this last bit that landed like a bombshell: she explained, with a broad smile and a sparkle in her eyes I'll never forget: "By the way, I'm the Alzheimer's patient!"
A magical, even life-changing, moment indeed - for her and certainly also for me.
Bob Shami for the Solid Ground quartet
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