Friday, January 4, 2019
In the aftermath of Christmas, I am coming down from the cliff of adrenaline and trying to find a few moments to sit down. Instead, I’ve been reconnecting with family. It has been good, but not for my energy level (or sleep schedule). But as we close this Christmas season with Epiphany, I do want to tell you this story.
My grandfather was a church organist for fifty years at his United Church in Barrie, Ontario. He has since retired, in no small part due to early-onset Alzheimer’s. Music stayed with him for a long time, and he could recall and play most songs from Voices United from memory. Over time, especially after he fell out of his nursing home bed last year, he had a much harder time being able to get going and finish songs that he started. He rarely can play anymore.
Last Christmas, I went up to Barrie with my mother and sister to visit. We gathered around him in his room and did a little Christmas hymn sing-along. He always responds well to music, and you can tell that he recognizes the song, but can’t quite catch the words or the tune. Eventually we got to “Angles We Have Heard on High,” the one with the long “Gloria” chorus. This one we could do in four-part harmony. When we launched into the chorus, my grandfather suddenly joined in, but rather than on the tune, it was on the bass part that I was also singing. There must have been something about that particular part of that particular song that broke through the haze in his memory.
This year we went up to Barrie again to visit family, including my grandfather. He was noticeably less focused and couldn’t hold eye contact. When my mother played him a video of her playing O Come All Ye Faithful on the organ, he clearly recognized it. He just couldn’t come up with the name, only mumbling “Hallelujah” and “O Holy Night” as guesses. But from where he was in terms of his ability to respond that day, it was impressive. He was connected.
That connection is important. It is not consistent, but when it happens I am so grateful for it. It is a little opportunity for joy, a little spark of the spirit of Christmas in the heart of a distressing and complex illness. When the light emerges from the darkness, it seems right to sing about angels.
”Every person passing through this life will unknowingly leave something and take something away.”