When I get to feeling down, I grab my ukulele and run through some chords, and maybe play a few tunes. I’m building up quite the list of songs that I can play and sing—and a bigger list that needs work. Some of these songs require awkward chord changes, or I just can’t quite get the tune right.
I don’t claim to be a great singer or exceptionally talented on the ukulele. That’s what makes it so good for my soul. I don’t put pressure on myself to play perfectly. I just let it roll, enjoy myself, and let improvement come gradually and naturally. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching the Voice, it’s that perfection isn’t as important as enjoying the music and singing from the heart.
The pandemic means that I don’t leave home often and when I do, it’s usually for something necessary. I did, however, drive to Versailles to visit with my mom. I took my ukulele along for the ride—just in case. I played a few tunes, and my mom and I sang a gospel song together. “I think I need to practice playing this on my banjolele,” I said. “It would sound great with a little bluegrass spin on it.”
I put the uke aside, and my mom and I reminisced about people we knew years ago. We spoke names that neither of us had spoken in decades. It did my heart good to spend that time with my mom. We talk on the phone every day, but an in-person visit filled a missing link for both of us.
Spending so much time at home has the disadvantage of my thinking turning inward. I have to be careful not to dwell on my mistakes, missteps, and the times I have offended or hurt others. While some might revel in their accomplishments or victories, I will remember the humiliation of being smacked in the face with a spiked volleyball or in the throat with a line drive. Things I should have forgotten by now, as I assure you, I’ve forgotten many others.
Forgetting bad memories is good, but forgetting all memories is bad. To forget our skills and talents, our family, and the life we have lived is unfathomable to most of us. Dementia chips away at the essence of personality built on a lifetime of experiences.
Dementia steals short-term memory first and leaves long-term memory until later in the disease. People with dementia become time travelers. I heard an elderly woman say she was out past curfew and her dad was going to be angry. I saw a man upset because he couldn’t get outdoors to check on his cows. One woman thought Jim was her husband. Jim was plagued by memories of Vietnam as repressed memories came back to haunt him.
Music could calm Jim. Jim was blessed with an abundance of talent reinforced by daily practice. In the early stages of dementia, Jim picked up his guitar each morning and played it. Sometimes he sang, but other times he allowed the magic of his guitar to take him to a better time. After he forgot how to play his guitar, he listened to some of the songs he used to play.
Music has medicinal value. A happy song can make me forget physical or mental pain. Music brings to mind happy memories of jam sessions on the front porch. My thoughts turn to loved ones forever tethered to my heart by the melody of an old country song.
Copyright © November 2020 by L.S. Fisher