As the trauma-induced dementia stole my father away, one joy remained – the memories of music. He lost his ability to speak and to sing. He no longer strummed the old Martin guitar or plunked chords on the piano. But the memory of the music remained.
I know this because I saw it in his eyes. Although Dad gradually lost the ability to respond by voice or even touch, the lyrics and the sounds of music cached in his memory. Eighth notes and rests, fermatas and repeat signs retained their sacred hold on Dad’s soul. Although he loved many types of music – country western, classical and the harmonies of chorales – it was the hymns that evoked life to the very end.
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchase of God. Born of his spirit, washed in his blood. This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long. This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.”
Whenever I visited Dad and entered his bedroom at the end of the hallway, I started singing this old hymn – Dad’s favorite. Since the day he gave his heart to Jesus, during halftime of a college basketball game, the blessed assurance of his salvation wrapped his heart in security. Dad chose this hymn during sing-alongs. He and I sang it together when we ministered together at nursing homes. He carried that blessed assurance with him even during the tragic fire that started the long road toward dementia. His soul wrapped itself around the meaning of those words and blessed him during the darkest times.
I stroked Dad’s hair and patted his hand as I continued to sing through all the verses of his hymn. Each time I sang to Dad, a spark lit up his eyes. Somewhere inside that ravaged brain, the music stirred a memory. Although he could not verbally share it with me, his eyes spoke the truth. The blessed assurance of his eternal security in Christ still existed. His soul echoed the joy of those words.
During Easter weekend of 2008, I once again entered Dad’s bedroom and sang his hymn. I patted his hand and looked into his eyes for the familiar spark of remembrance. But this time, it was gone. Only a blank stare greeted me. The dementia had finally stolen from him the last vestige of memory. I knew Dad was on his way to heaven where the music would never end.
One month later, my sister called me and said. “Dad’s finally Home. It’s over.”
At his funeral, we sang the words once again. The music reverberated throughout the sanctuary, surrounded the dear body lying in the coffin and echoed through the hallways of the church. As Dad’s earthly story ended, that blessed assurance became his epilogue. His song carried him into the arms of Jesus and once again, I marveled at the power of the music.
As caregivers, we must find out the special songs that comfort our loved ones. As we sing those melodies or play an instrument at the bedside, we connect once again. And in that connection, we find joy even in the waning moments of life. The power of the music transcends our one-dimensional lives and transports us to those spiritual havens we long for.
Happy Easter, Dad. I love you, and I miss you. In your memory, I will sing your song.