Music was Mum’s greatest gift. Author Malcolm Gladwell maintains that ten thousand hours of practice are necessary to achieve mastery in a field. As a student, concert pianist and music teacher Mum had rehearsed and performed for many more hours than that. Music-making was hard-wired into her whole being – from her brain, to her heart and soul, to her fingers and toes.
A few years before Mum was diagnosed with dementia, she moved to a retirement village. Her grand piano went with her, gracing the communal lounge. Every Friday night was the ‘Celtic Evening’. Mum would play requests and residents would belt out traditional songs, well-oiled by each one’s preferred tipple.
The family bought Mum an upright piano so that she could practise in her flat. Even after she was diagnosed with dementia, Mum continued to share her gift of music, accompanying a retired opera singer who came to her flat to rehearse, and teaching her grandson to play the piano. Dementia didn’t prevent her from producing a CD of 16 piano pieces as a wedding gift for her son Bill and his wife Janet. Sitting next to her on the piano stool during the recording session, I was amazed by her technical accuracy and emotional sensitivity.
Mum’s grand piano moved with her to the dementia care home where she lived for the last four years of her life. Almost every day Mum would spontaneously sit down at the piano in the lounge and play, continuing to share her gift with those around her. Over the years, she forgot most of her classical pieces, but she never forgot how to create harmonious music. Mum gave her final ‘recital’ just two weeks before she passed away.
Our gifts become blessings when they are shared. Those who receive the gift are blessed. And the giver is also blessed as they receive appreciation, acknowledgement and affirmation.
What gifts does your loved one with dementia have to share? And what opportunities exist for them to share their gifts, and be acknowledged and affirmed for their uniqueness?