Alphonse is a very gentle man, small in stature and very quiet. He has a dry sense of humor and likes to make little jokes about himself which are in fact quite funny. Sometimes he will come by the office in the evening and ask if we could watch ‘lindy-hop’ on YouTube. It is I guess the jitterbug…. hyped up on caffeine… a lot of it. It is an amazing dance to watch and he likes to look at the same one. He also likes to watch ‘In the mood’, a swing classic from the 40’s. While watching these presentation on YouTube he becomes young again, his eyes light up and this very big grin comes on his face. He smile easily, but this is different. I think perhaps he is reliving some memories from his younger days.
Edmund was a very quiet man; he spoke with a soft voice and never showed a great deal of emotion. When he was a young man he used to play the violin and also was a lover of Jazz. He has been gone now about six years but it seems like yesterday that I learned of the power of music to touch a gentle soul deeply. I was in the main sitting room reading. I had just put on a Billy Holiday CD for him. Billy was an all time favorite of Edmund’s. I believe he told me that he saw her a few times in the Jazz clubs where she preformed. So as I sat down and started to read; I noticed from my peripheral vision that Edmund was coming towards me in his wheelchair. As I looked up I became alarmed because I saw him in an emotional state that I had never experienced before from him before. His eyes were wide, his lips trembled and he was crying. Then I saw they were tears of joy and I guess of memories past. Yes I could never think about music the same again after that. I know from experience that music, even though I am not a great listener, touches me deeply as well. He also loved Louie Armstrong.
William is the same. In his heyday, he was known as ‘Billy Love’ and I heard he was a very good musician. He is of course a jazz lover. Over the past couple of years he could spend the whole day singing, though the words could not be understood. Sometimes the songs would be joyful, at others, he would cry when he sang. I sometimes tell him that when he sings God laughs with pleasure. When he hears this, he sings louder. Lately he is singing less as his dementia deepens, yet he still has a life, with good days, bad days we all have our share….as Led Zeppelin sang in their first and I feel best recording.
Perhaps music is just another voice that God uses to speak to most of us. I know there are people who are tone deaf but I am sure they hear the voice of God through other forms of beauty just as we all do. I have learned a lot from the old men I have taken care of. For instance one day I was joking with Edmund that he does not want to go to heaven soon, since he is holding on for a long time. He was in a wheel chair, bad back problems and had dementia. He looked up at me, gave me that gently loving smile and said: “we are here for such a short time; we should hang on as long as possible”. Now that was a statement that changed me on some level. Here almost ten years later, I still remember that quote and loving smile.
I have had no one that we have taken care of here ask for their lives to be shortened, but no one ever asked for us to do everything possible to extend their lives. They just wanted to live out their years and when their time came, to be allowed to die peacefully if possible and if not, to be given the comfort needed to help them go without too much struggle.