There are so many mixed emotions that develop while visiting my father-in-law in the place he now calls home. I have written extensively about how this once very bright, capable, and independent man has deteriorated, and of the challenges he faces on a daily basis due to his ongoing struggle with PSP. As a result of his condition, he now resides in a longterm care facility where his special needs can be properly addressed. While we are all tremendously grateful for the excellent and loving attention he receives from a wonderfully gifted staff who I truly believe are doing God's work, there is stinging heartbreak that is palpable for both The Husband and me every single time we come to see him.
There are a myriad of activities that the nursing home provides in order to both entertain and stimulate its residents. Musical guests and programs are amongst the most popular and for good reason. Music penetrates. It seeps into the subconscious and the consciousness of every single person it touches. It triggers memories and it nourishes the soul of even the most seemingly lost individual. There was a time in my own career when I used to make regular appearances at nursing homes in order to entertain. I have witnessed first hand the power that music, especially familiar music, can have on uncommunicative and seemingly unresponsive people. It is as if a light turns on, even if it is just for a short moment. Yesterday, I observed such a moment.
The Ps are regular performers at the care facility. They are a husband/wife team who sing with the residents using a poorly synched karaoke machine. They are often joined by their teenaged son who accompanies them with some toy tambourines. Everybody in the home is brought into the lobby in order to participate in this incredibly kitsch and unbelievably strange musical experience. When I saw the Ps perform the first time I honestly thought that it was a comedy act. The singing was so very poor and their material so very dated, and they danced around the lobby shaking and giggling like sixth graders at an elementary school talent show. I kept thinking that this was exactly the kind of routine that most people would run screaming from if they still had the ability to run screaming from anything.
But yesterday I saw something that drastically altered my thinking on the Ps. The Husband and I went to visit his dad and were dismayed to notice the entire population of the nursing home gathered in lobby as we entered. That could only mean that our visit had coincided with the Ps. We scanned the crowd and searched for his dad. We located him in a back corner and reluctantly sat with him while the Ps performed. I was steeling myself for yet another rousing rendition of You Are My Sunshine when something remarkable occurred. Amidst the blank stares, expressionless faces, and wooden looks there was a spark. An elderly lady in the front row bolted from her seat and started to dance. She wasn't simply moving her feet. She was flat-out ballroom dancing. She held her arms out to a partner that only she could see, and she was moving in a perfect foxtrot in front of the Ps. With her grey hair flowing behind her, she was relieving a memory in full public view and she was thrilled. A younger man, who was obviously a visitor, stood up and took her by the arms in order to finish the dance with her. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in a place that houses much sadness.
The Ps will never find fame and fortune doing what they do and to be honest, they really do need to update their act. But their continual contribution to a sheltered world that is in desperate need of music cannot go unappreciated. They bring joy and spark to people who have long forgotten. It is a gift that is rare.