There’s a woman at the nursing home that always cries when we sing, “In the Garden.” I always sing it, even though I know how it affects her, because there’s an important connection there that is being made. The music cuts through her dementia and touches her past and it makes her cry.
I happened to know some of that lady’s past. I was her pastor many years before when she was a little younger. I know some of her losses and I know how she stepped up to some major challenges and I know about some of her heartbreaks. So I sing her the song that makes her cry because she needs to cry.
“You were always my favorite pastor,” she tells me every time just before I hug her goodbye.
I’ve seen it many times before. Music skirts past the chaos of dementia to connect us to our memories and reminds us of who we are.
One guy always asks me to sing a child’s song he learned in Sunday School: “Zacheaus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he…” He always gets this childlike grin when I sing it and he moves his hand up and down with the music like a kid might.
I used to know another woman who was often not pleasant. Once, I came in beaming at everyone and asked how they were. She crossed her arms and screeched, “I was doing fine until I saw you come in here with that old guitar.”
I patted her shoulder and said, “You don’t mean it.”
“Yes I DO!” she said incensed.
But she really didn’t.
I stood in front of them and belted out “Pow’r in the Blood.” The music caught her and in an instant she was singing right along with me.
“You couldn’t help yourself, could you?” I said. “You were singing so pretty right with me.”
She laughed. She couldn't help it. For a moment, she was herself again.
The music helps me, too. Once when the doctor was monitoring my blood pressure, I went into her office right after I had sung with the nursing home residents.
“Your blood pressure is down. Have you been exercising?”
Last night we had a community singing. I heard other musicians play and sing and some of it was pretty good. Their old songs took me back to some good times where I remembered people who were precious to me and it made me cry. And it was a good thing.