Ruth and the Chocolate Covered Cherries
Blog post 01/02/2018
by Mary Sue Wilkinson,
Founder of Singing Heart to Heart
The holiday season often finds us visiting loved ones and friends, young and old. Sometimes it can seem like an effort to fit those visits in. We may even wonder if they are worthwhile. I hope today's recollection from my Young at Heart Music program will inspire you.
I’ve known Ruth for quite a while. She used to spend time at an adult day center where I sing. I remember writing about her then – how even though she was restricted to using a wheel chair, her body always responded to the music - her toes tapping, her hands clapping, her head nodding.
Ruth moved to a fully supported care residence about six months ago. I have seen the decline her brain disease has caused. These days she is frequently asleep during music.
Today was different. When I arrived, a visitor was sitting on the arm of the couch next to Ruth’s wheelchair. The conversation was simple. Just a few friendly comments. Ruth smiled and nodded occasionally. I wondered who the visitor was. Was she a family member? A member of a church congregation that Ruth had belonged to? Maybe she was a former neighbor. I have no way to know if she had ever even met Ruth before.
In Ruth’s hand was a gift from the visitor. A small box of chocolate covered cherries with a candy cane taped to the front of it.
I began to sing. The visitor stayed for one or two songs, simply sitting next to Ruth, singing along and sharing the moment.
After the visitor left, Ruth held that box of candy out in front of her. Occasionally she would look down at it and smile. Throughout the entire music session – another 30 minutes – Ruth smiled and nodded – engaging with the music in a way that I had not seen in months.
Will Ruth remember who came to see her or what was said? Probably not. But Ruth’s visitor had a lasting and positive impact on her. Ruth felt the connection.
A few friendly words, a box of candy, a flower, a colorful card, a song sung together, a hand to hold, a kiss on the cheek, a hug. Can you share these gifts now during the holiday season, and on throughout the year?
The human spirit longs for connection with others. That never changes.
I’m Mary Sue. I grew up in Iowa in a musical family and I’ve been singing as long as I can remember. I got my first guitar when I was twelve years old. My mom saved up green stamps to buy it for me. (Thanks mom!)
I’m the founder of Singing Heart to Heart and the Young at Heart Music Program. My passion for singing with elders started when I sang for my father-in-law who had dementia. He had lost all language but when I sang the hymns he knew and loved; he could sing every word. Perfect pitch. He even added harmony.
I quickly learned what research is now documenting. Music is a powerful tool to help us connect, find joy, and spark memories. Especially for people living with dementia. I've seen this first hand. I lead over 400 singing and music experiences for seniors each year.
I’m a career educator, a certified music teacher, an experienced speaker and trainer, and a professional musician. I’m also the author of Songs You Know by Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care. Teepa Snow endorses my book and my work.