Two years ago, the Grand Island Community Chorus sang a tender song about an elderly woman who was starting to lose touch with her memories. The song touched my heart very deeply because it is something that I live every day. About three and a half years ago, my brilliant mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease. That relentless disease steals memories and personalities. It takes away from its victims their ability to communicate with others. They forget words as they are trying to talk, which leads to frustration. Sometimes, they are aware of what is happening to them; other times, they are not.
So the song… it was for three parts: first soprano, second soprano, and alto. We had a guest conductor: a young woman who had just graduated from college and was in the process of looking for a job as a choral music teacher in a school. Not only did she teach us the music and conduct us during the concert, she also challenged us to think about the meaning of the song. She asked us to write something that reflected our feelings about the song. So, I left my comfort zone and wrote a sonnet. I don’t usually write sonnets, but I felt really motivated to write in that form. The type of sonnet that I wrote is called “terza rima.” This poetic style was first used by Dante Alighieri, who wrote The Divine Comedy in 1320. The poem is written in triplets and it has a rhyme scheme.
As I wrote the poem, I was thinking about the many years that my mother spent singing to me and with me. We sang at bedtime and in the car on long trips. We sang when the mood struck us. We were enamored with singing. We sang about 100 bottles of beer falling to the floor, one at a time. Somehow, we always lost count! We sang about marching ants. We sang about London Bridge falling down, falling down, my dear lady. We especially enjoyed that song. And we loved each other, a bushel and a peck, through the magic of song.
One surprising thing that I learned about Alzheimers is that it leaves the part of the brain that handles music alone. People with Alzheimers can remember lyrics to songs and they can remember how to play musical instruments. Music is that magical thing that brings people together and touches their deepest feelings.
So, in honor of my mother with whom I shared jokes and many cups of tea, I wrote a sonnet. To celebrate the somewhat fragmented memories that I have of her when I was very young, I wrote a sonnet.
My path is littered with shadows of songs,
Of broken shards of bedtime lullabies.
Their echoes sound as I hurry along.
My path bears echoes of long ago cries.
I stumble over the rocks of fragmented dreams.
Can I capture the song before it dies?
But all I hear are dementia’s scared screams,
As time tears holes in mom’s bright memories.
Singing with her feels like a distant dream.
Oh, to set all those lost lullabies free!
But time has elapsed; has it been too long?
When did my mother’s songs escape from me?
I stop to hear echoes of long-lost songs.
I wait, listen, and then, hurry along.