The Time Traveler's Daughter
"It's your turn tonight," my son says to my mother. She gently smiles and immediately closes her eyes as we all clasp hands in patient anticipation.
Praying before dinner has been a lasting tradition, a torch passed back and forth, down generation to generation, for as long as I can remember.
Throughout my life, my mother has always been as chatty as she is friendly, eager to spread her love and southern hospitality to any who would let her. However, these endearing qualities have been slowly dulling over the past few years.
Erosion of abilities
Dementia has eroded her ability to verbally express her thoughts, far beyond the point of losing her gift of gab nature, but to making simple daily conversations a struggle. It is exacerbated by her decline in short-term memory, forgetting more and more about what happens daily.
She often struggles to recall the plot of the new movie we just watched, what time she took her pills this morning, or how to use the remote to turn on her favorite shows. Thus, the prayer tonight, a routine practice for decades, emerges as a potential challenge.
Through the past
Although, there seems to be one key that unlocks the sharpness of the mind we once knew, and it's through the past. Mom can still remember meeting a young intern from Ohio on his OBGYN rotation in the army hospital in Denver, Colorado, my dad.
They were married for over 50 years. He has been gone for nearly 10.
Sharing our family history
Now that my children are adults, one preparing to leave the nest while the other is already out, I appreciate that they care to listen to their grandmother about our family history because they want to connect with my mother.
She can still talk about some of those things, although she can't remember anyone's birthday and can't come up with our names more often these days.
It's funny how music can be a connection to the past and can unlock stories.
This Sunday, our pastor told of his mother, who is nonverbal now, but she can still sing. She had been a worship leader so many years ago. He wanted to pray with her, but then he remembered that the Lord's Prayer had been set to music. He started singing, and then she joined in! They had a nice little round going.
My mom isn't that well-versed in music. No pun intended. But she's still quick with the comic relief when the situation or conversation gets uncomfortable. She can bust out a few lines of, Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!, only she likes to end it, "everything's going... Somebody else's waaaaay," with lots of giggles.
Mom's other blast from the past is Bill Grogan's Goat. She's still got a few verses of that song. We all shake our heads, and my kids are a little shocked at the PETA-unfriendly song.
The soundtrack of memory lane
But it's in the songs and a few stories from the past that mom is the most herself again. If only we could turn back the clock to stay. For the present, we will enjoy the soundtrack to memory lane.
Many people have tried listening to music with a loved one to happy effect. How about singing or stories from the past? What has that unlocked for you or your loved one? Tell us about your experience in the comments below, or share your story with the community.
Are you a male caregiver to a loved one with Alzheimer's disease?