The Magic of Music
Music can work miracles. It brought Fred and me together, which is miraculous enough. Back in the 1983, we met at a party at my brother’s house. I was sitting on the floor singing and playing my guitar. He was married at the time. I was divorced. A year later, I had quit my newspaper job to sing with a traveling country music show. The show went bankrupt, and I wound up at my brother’s house for another party. Fred was there, newly single, and our love story began. If I had stayed at the newspaper in Pacifica, I wouldn’t have been at the party. I might never have seen Fred Lick again.
Many years have passed, but music is still with me. I have sung at shows, bars, community events and in church choirs, but some of my most fascinating gigs have been at nursing homes. It started with Grandpa Fagalde, who was suffering from dementia in the early ‘90s. One day early in his stay at a nursing home in Campbell, California, he said, “You play piano, don’t you? Why don’t you sit down and play something.” I did. People gathered around and soon they were singing. I could hear Grandpa’s reedy voice above the rest. His favorites were “Good Night, Irene” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” My piano skills were limited and the D next to Middle C didn't always sound, but it didn’t matter.
I began playing the piano and singing there every other Wednesday. As time went on, Grandpa’s illness progressed. He didn’t’ know who I was, but he knew I played music. He couldn’t carry on a logical conversation, but he remembered the words of the old songs. It created a special bond between us.
After Grandpa passed away, I took my music to Spencer House here in South Beach and Newport Rehab. I didn’t know then that Fred would be living in such a facility one day and that I would be singing for him. But the time came when I took my guitar to Timberwood Court in Albany and sang for Fred and the other residents. Fred always sang along. When other musicians visited, he sat in the front row, singing every song in his deep bass voice. Other residents sang along, too. Even those who seemed frozen in their own minds reacted to the music. One lady did a little dance. Another lady clapped and laughed. Everyone responded in some way. For that hour, they seemed free from their illnesses.
The music stayed with Fred much longer than his spoken language. He could barely put more than a few words together by last Christmas, but he could still sing. We sang along with the radio, and sometimes we danced. One day when the TV wasn’t working, I started singing Jingle Bells. He jumped right in with a perfect bass harmony, probably remembered from his days with the Coastal-Aires barbershop chorus. We went from one Christmas song to another, earning applause from the staff.
Fred’s illness progressed rapidly after a trip to the hospital on New Year’s Eve and subsequent surgeries. He moved to the Regency skilled nursing facility. He stopped speaking, except for an occasional “yes” or “no.” The second to last time I saw him alive, I brought my guitar. Sitting on his bed, I sang many of the songs that we both loved. He tried to sing, and he moved his feet to the beat. He seemed more alert and alive than he had in weeks. I am so grateful I could give him the gift of music one more time.
I bring this up because I just finished reading Oliver Sack’s Musicophilia (Vintage Books, 2008). It’s a fascinating exploration of music and the brain. Sacks tells of people who can’t talk or add two and two who are musical prodigies. He writes about how people with Parkinson’s disease whose movements are usually ragged and jerky can move smoothly if they do it to music, how profoundly disturbed people become calm and focused with a steady rhythm, how some musicians who have lost all their memory to illness or injury can still sit at the piano and play as well as ever, if not better.
In his chapter on dementia, Sacks suggests that music can give patients back a part of themselves. It allows them to feel capable of doing something when they’re losing all of their other abilities. Because our musical skills reside in a different part of the brain from our speech and memories, people with dementia can recognize and respond to music even when little else can get through.
The book is pretty complex, full of medical terms, but the message is clear: Music is good medicine. It’s magic. When in doubt, sing.
Sue Fagalde Lick
Sand all over the place
It will be here this week, the paperback version of Shoes Full of Sand. You can read more about it and order it by clicking here or going to Amazon.com. It’s also available as a Kindle book for only $4.99.
What’s it about? It’s about dogs, the Oregon Coast, starting life over in a place where nothing is the same. It's about life, death, squirrels and hot tubs. It will make you laugh, maybe make you cry, but I think you’ll enjoy the ride.
I’ll be selling the new book at the Jefferson Frog Jump on July 16 and the Lincoln City Book Fair on Aug. 27. I’m available for other events.
I still have copies of Stories Grandma Never Told: Portuguese Women in California, as well as Azorean Dreams and Freelancing for Newspapers. Click here to order.
So what am I working on now? Finding my desk after the craziness of putting a book together. And no, I have not forgotten Childless by Marriage. I’ll be focusing on that next. Meanwhile, read the blogs, listed below, where I write about childlessness, writing, and life with Annie on the Oregon Coast. Eclectic? Yes, some people call it ADD. I just say I’m interested in everything.
The Show Goes On
For a while, I didn’t want to do music anymore, not without Fred as my biggest supporter and roadie. But he would not want me to stop singing. So, I’ve been busy with music lately.
In addition to my regular job co-directing and accompanying choirs at Sacred Heart Church, I played at the Samaritan House Garden Tour June 26. I set my stage up on a deck overlooking a vast garden that led to a big pond. It was beautiful, and the hosts were a musician’s dream. It felt great to sing and play my music again. So, I’m open for gigs. In addition to singing or playing guitar, I can read, talk, teach, whatever you need. I have a group of songs that I hope to put on CD soon to go with the book. Title track is—you guessed it—Shoes Full of Sand.
It strikes me that all this activity may seem inappropriate so soon after my husband died, but emotionally and financially, I have to keep busy. The truth is, I have been grieving for nine years as Fred’s illness progressed and he died a cell at a time. Finally, the dying is done. I miss him every day, and some days I don't want to do anything, but there are still songs to be sung. Somewhere, Fred is singing along.
In the Blogs
* Fertility Does Not Last Forever
* Childless Widow is Not
* What Am I to My Stepchildren
Now That My Husband has
* Is Your Idea 'Actionable?'
* Wi-Fi Beats the Good Old Days
* Job-Seeking Online
* I've Got that Oregon Glow
* Monarch Sculpture Park
* Help, It's Not Raining
I have taken the 2003-2006 newsletters offline, but if you see something interesting in the list, I will provide free PDF copies on request.
* * *Blue River by Ethan Canin, Houghton Mifflin, 1991. Brothers Lawrence and Edward haven’t seen each other for 10 years. One day, Lawrence shows up at his brother’s door, looking like a bum, acting a little crazy, and mum about where he’s been or why he’s here. It’s an interesting beginning that soon launches into a flashback that occupies most of the book. It’s a grim story with many mysteries, told with unusual punctuation and in the second person, so it’s not an easy read. I almost put it down several times but I was out of town and lacked alternatives. I liked parts of it very much, but I would recommend this book only to the most patient of readers.
* * Widow to Widow by Genevieve Davis Ginsburg, M.S., Da Capo Press, 1997. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not as helpless as this book assumes. Widow to Widow is filled with advice for the new widow, but most of the advice would fit my mother better than me, even though Ginsburg says the average widow is my age. There are lots of good chapters about emotions, relationships and practical considerations, but overall, this book is just too dated. A lot has changed since 1997. I suppose some widows are still housewives who don’t know how to take care of finances, can’t make a decision without consulting a man, and are afraid to leave their house alone, but I haven’t met them. This book also assumes—except for one paragraph—that all widows have children. Not necessarily so. Ginsburg is right about the shock of the loss and the need to figure out one’s life anew, but someone should tell her about the woman’s movement.
* * * * * Earthly Pleasures by Karen Neches, Simon & Schuster, 2008. Ever wonder what it’s really like in Heaven? Neches gives us an inside look at Heaven, and it’s a lot like earth, except without earth’s problems. Tap a few keys on your Wishberry, and you can have anything you want. In the first chapter, we meet Skye, who welcomes the newly dead to heaven. She soon becomes fascinated by a man, Ryan Blaine, who comes to her desk in a near-death experience but survives and returns to earth. At the same time, we get to know Ryan, whose wife Susan was in a terrible car accident and now does not seem anything like herself, and Caroline, a nursing home resident, whose comatose roommate Emily, looks a lot like Susan. It’s a little corny and cliched, but it’s a fun read and overall well done. And oh, by the way, there is no hell, and the Supreme Being is female. Neches also writes as Karin Gillespie and is co-author of The Sweet Potato Queen’s First Big-Ass Novel and the Bottom Dollar Girls series.
* * A Step from Death by Larry Woiwode, Counterpoint, 2008. I just read a review of this memoir that praised it for its poetic writing and peripatetic pace. Okay. I nearly put it down on page three because I had so much trouble following it. Then something happened, a tractor accident that caught my attention and made me decide to slog on. Believing that life is not linear, that it happens in overlapping layers that mix time and place, Woiwode tells his story, addressed to his son Joseph, in a layered, wandering way that will confuse most readers. There are various threads: his troubled relationship with his father, his loving relationship with New Yorker editor William Maxwell, his thoughts on parenting, life and death, and his struggles as a writer. Perhaps a more erudite reader would call this a masterpiece, but when I still don’t know for sure what’s going on in the last chapter, I call it a relief that I can move on to something else.
Summer is finally here--although many of us had rain last week. It's a freaky year. Enjoy the sun. Happy birthday to Gretchen, Terry and everyone else celebrating the anniversary of their birth. Happy posthumous birthday to my mom and Uncle Bob. We miss you. May life be good to you all this month.
Top photo by Patricia Stern
All other content copyright 2011 Sue Fagalde Lick