Whether you are a family caregiver or a healthcare professional, you give so much of yourself in the care of others. When did you take your last deep breath? The impact of not doing so affects both you and those you are caring for, so in truth, no one wins.
My grandmother's lullabies (is it still a lullaby if it's morning, though?) to her flowers were more than just idle sounds. Rather, they were an expression of her caring. Remembering her singing made me think about how music in general, and singing specifically, is an essential part of caregiving for humans, as well as houseplants.
At six, eight, ten, thirteen, I was not afraid of storms, and even loved the electric crackle of lightning, and the distant (and not-so-distant) booming of thunder, which I imagined as a conversation among mythic figures, like the Greek gods and goddesses I read about in stories. As recently as 2019, I got excited when a storm bore my name, though of course I feel horrible about the damage caused by Hurricane Melissa, especially in the Carolinas.
It's a dilemma we all have as the people we love age, move out of their homes and into ours (or care homes) and eventually die. On the one hand, those family treasures are imbued with a ton of meaning. On the other, they're just things, and keeping a clock or a table or even my stepfather's collection of science and match textbooks doesn't make my memories any stronger, just as donating or selling these things won't diminish them.
Humor has long been my personal "coping mechanism," and I often tell people that sarcasm is my second language, but I come by this honestly. Everyone in my family, both blood and chosen, responds with witty comebacks or painful puns, or just bad jokes whenever things are getting tense. Even my husband knows that the best way to shake me out of a gloomy mood is to make me laugh, and I do the same for him.
Instantly I'm ten years old, sitting on the ancient beige chintz sofa in my grandparents' den, racing with my grandfather to see which of us could answer first, while my grandmother made comments about which of us should know the answer. I didn't know, then, that their daily viewing of this television show was part of my grandmother's attempt to ensure that my grandfather's brain remained stimulated and active.
Going to the beach, then, became something of an adventure. We had to pack extra clothing and hygiene products (we were all in California by then, and unlike New Jersey, the beaches there don't all have restrooms and changing cabanas). Of course, we were all well trained in the art of changing behind towels held up by whoever was with you, but after my grandmother's hip replacement, she needed a wheelchair, and that made things a bit more complicated.
There is nothing wrong with going to the beach or having a family picnic on Memorial Day. My grandfather, who died when I was twenty-one, often reminded us that he and his compatriots fought for our right to have those parties and picnics. However, it's important to remember that this holiday has a somber element. We are meant to remember the military officers - fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings – in our family. We are meant to honor their service. We are meant to tell their stories.
This Mother's Day, take the extra time to let your Mom hear you from a heart space about special moments that mean so much to you.
Just as people who stutter are often encouraged to sing to help their speech flow more freely, singing or playing music makes memories flow and allows conversations to happen more easily. When an elderly relative or someone with cognitive impairment can't remember or can't find words to speak, playing music or singing together can help the memories flow. Singing a favorite "oldie" like Elvis's "Love me Tender" might trigger memories of first loves while playing classical pieces might spark conversations about anything from weddings to concerts.