There is a time for everything .. A time to weep and a time to laugh … a time to be silent and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4a, 7b NIV).
As an Aged Care Chaplain, I have the privilege of leading Musical Reminiscence in the Hostel and Nursing Home and in a separate Dementia-specific Home. I use songs on CD (or on iPod) with accompanying song sheets.
In a normal sing-a-long we would simply sing. Because it is Musical Reminiscence we do much more. I talk about the songs, tell stories and jokes, ask questions, and keenly observe the residents. Whenever a resident reacts I affirm their contribution: I address them by name and seek to explore that contribution. For example, one day I played a song by an American jazz singer. The Hostel resident asked me if had ever heard a particular song by the same singer. I hadn’t, but I found a YouTube version on my iPhone and played it through the sound system. She became very emotional, and with tears running down her face she told me that she used to sing the song to her baby son to lull him to sleep. She hadn’t heard it since – and her son was now 66 years old!
One day I was leading Musical Reminiscence with high care residents. As it was June in Australia I decided to sing songs related to the theme of “Winter”. We sang familiar songs like “Wouldn’t it be luverly” (My Fair Lady: “all I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air”) and “Edelweiss” (The Sound of Music: “blossom of snow may you bloom and grow”). After one particular song “Judy” – a delightful and very verbal lady living with dementia – clapped her hands with great excitement. Her face was beaming. Without any hesitation she shouted out: “You have a lovely voice. I can see it coming out of your ears”.
Most of the residents laughed. One, a frail-aged resident with excellent cognition, shook his head and said loudly: “I thought I’d heard it all”. Judy looked around the room, no longer smiling, a puzzled look on her face. She looked at me and said “You do have a lovely voice”.
What was my reaction to Judy’s funny comment? Internally I laughed, because the visual image was truly funny. But over eight years I have learnt a better way. I smiled at her, nodding my head, and after her second comment simply said: “Thank you Judy. That means a lot to me”. She beamed – affirmed, valued, and heard.
Although Judy’s brain is damaged by dementia, her emotions are whole. She feels, as we all feel. I feel for her.
So, every day I try and heed the (misquoted) words of Shakespeare: “To laugh or not to laugh – that is the question”.