She had wheeled herself up near the piano and was listening to us sing for awhile. Her one arm hung uselessly at her side and with the other she maneuvered the chair close behind us. She asked if she could join in. It was a childlike questioning voice coming from a scrunched up cherubic face that was filled with doubt as to whether or not she’d be welcomed. Of course, we welcomed her. We are a singing family and you can only have too few singers. I handed her a hymn book and then quickly realized she couldn’t turn the pages so I located the number for her. She smiled a wide smile and whispered a thank you.
Sister Ruth sat at the piano with her service dog, Dolly, camped underneath. Despite the cerebral palsy that ravages her body Ruth’s beautiful fingers soar over the keys as we sing all our favorites. We were singing the beautiful old hymns our family mostly knows by heart, however our voices are old and cracked now and sometimes we struggle to find a key that works. Our eyes are dimming and we have to hold the book closer in order to distinguish notes or read the words. But in the end we love to sing so we sing. Mark and I pulled up chairs and we called out the numbers of our favorites. We ask the newcomer if she has a favorite. She either doesn’t or is too shy to announce it. Mom can’t remember the names of her favorites. We turn the pages and launch into I”ll Fly Away knowing that for us all it is sooner rather than later that some glad morning appears.
Mom sat next to Ruth in a wingback chair. She looked around with a good deal of concern at first. The piano we had commandeered was in the lobby of the care facility and there were lots of people around, some working, some listening, some wondering in loud voices why the ‘concert’ hadn’t been listed on the schedule. It had been a rugged time on Thursday and Friday as we had moved Mom from her assisted living room into the Memory Care Unit. My two sisters and my brother and I had gathered together to help Mom make the transition and it was hard to watch her confusion and concerns as we moved her into half of the space she had previously occupied and introduced her to her roommate for the first time. She was exhausted and scared and it was difficult to manage our own anxiety in the face of hers. Her mind has been deteriorating rapidly these past few months and all agreed that the time had come to place her in a safer, more confined space where her care level will be increased. But now the difficult days were over. It was Saturday afternoon and we had discovered a piano and I had brought along some hymn books so all was right with the world. As we sang Mom lost interest in the people around us and soon found a harmony part or sang the descants in her beautiful high tenor voice. Her eyes closed as the familiar words poured from her mouth. Words that come from some place in her brain not ravaged by the dementia that robs her of her ability to converse and us of the beauty of what she once remembered. It was an extraordinary hymn sing not for the quality of the singers and the skills of the pianist, but for the joy of doing one last time what we had always done before knowing that this time it would be the last time we would do it together in this life.
Sometimes one or the other of us would stop singing as our tears flowed and our broken hearts listened to the words we were singing and we silently cried out to God. Amazing Grace, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Wonderful Grace of Jesus, How Great Thou Art, My Jesus I Love Thee, beautiful song after beautiful song, powerful verse after powerful verse tumbled out and we were transported to another realm. Church happened. Worship happened. Jesus gave us one more sweet moment with Mom in a long line of sweet moments. We got to see and taste for just a moment some glad morning. Somewhere in it all, the lady in the wheelchair leaned forward and asked, “Will there be an offering?”
I’m a little slow and hard of hearing so I didn’t understand at first. Then I caught on as she repeated the question. “No,” I murmured, “it is just that our family loves to sing…”
It was a muddled answer to her heartfelt question. She nodded, “Oh, okay, it is just that this is a lot like my grandma’s church. I really miss her and her church. Thanks for letting me sing with you.”
Of course, you can’t stay in church all day. At some point a lady came up rather huffily in her walker and demanded to know why we weren’t on the schedule and why the facility had double booked entertainment and informed us that the other entertainer was here and we were keeping him from from setting up. I apologized profusely and we immediately began moving things back to where they’d been. “So sorry,” I said.
The ‘entertainer’ peeked out from behind a wingback chair, smiled, and called out, “Don’t apologize. I’ve got plenty of time to set up. I’ve just been sitting here enjoying the harmonies and the lyrics. Take your time. Thanks for singing…”
Will there be an offering? There already was one long ago. That offering has made all the difference. And because of that offering someday soon we’ll fly off to that land where joy will never end. Mom is fading fast and we trail close behind. Meanwhile we get little tastes of that sweet joy in the midst of our sorrows.