Forgetting and Remembering

We are in the Alzheimer’s wing at the nursing home, surrounded by Halloween decorations and elderly people in various stages of wakefulness. My kids perch on their vinyl chairs while I settle at the piano and Art greets the people gathered in a semicircle of recliners with absorbent pads on the seats.

The room smells like institutional food and Lysol and that smell that nursing homes have. The nurse at the station nearby chatters on the phone as my husband announces the first hymn: “Count Your Many Blessings.”

I find it in the book and start playing. He walks around and helps all the residents who are awake find their place in their books. I play through the whole song once and the chorus another time before he’s ready. The keys are smooth under my fingers, and as I get warmed up my mistakes get less audacious. Finally we are ready to sing.

Doc sings the loudest, right on key. He knows all the words of the chorus and most of the words of the verses. I sing, too– sing and play and make mistakes and smile because if there’s one place where they will love you anyway, it’s the Alzheimer’s wing. We do two more songs, and Art shares Scripture, and then we finish off with “Trust and Obey.”

I am playing through the song while Art finds everyone’s place again, but the residents can’t wait for everyone to be ready. By the time Art’s back at the front, half of them are singing– Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey! They have amazing voices. We sing all the verses.

Art closes in prayer and gathers books, and Pooka walks around and shyly shakes everyone’s hands, and I do too, complimenting the ladies on their sweaters and their fingernails. Some of them have no idea we’re even there. Others aren’t sure who we are but are very glad to talk to us. A few remember us from last time.

“I love to sing,” one lady tells me, and I say I could hear her singing every word. She talks to me about my children and how great they are. I tell her I know.

“Hey, don’t we have any candy?” another lady is asking one of the nurses. “These kids need candy!” I reassure her that my children will be okay, and that we need to go now. Waving goodbye, we leave the residents to their televisions and puzzles and craft projects and whatever else they do to fill the long, lonely, confused days.

As we make our way down the hall, someone is still humming “Trust and Obey.”



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