Confession: I wasn’t dying to go to the brunch at my mother-in-law’s assisted living place out of town today. The musicians who play these gigs could easily be residents.
The visit is particularly tough for me because my 91-year-old mother died just a month ago. In the lobby is my mother-in-law (happy 92nd next week) is wheeling my mother’s cobalt blue walker (the Range Rover of geriatric gear), which I gave her, along with lots of my mother’s jewelry.
She looks fabulous in the chunky, alabaster glass necklace and matching earrings. Compliments are flowing about her gems from fellow residents and their families. I am thrilled I have given them to her, and I know my mother would have been pleased, too, but it feels weird, too. I’m feeling a bit blue.
But then, at dessert this woman Roz I have never met comes up and asks me if I am my mother-in-law! Hmmm. Then she asks me if I’d like to hear her play the piano. Why not, I think? I can do this!! So I follow her into the other room.
She can barely see and has just confused me with a nonagenerian, so I’m hardly expecting mad piano skills. The woman is amazing! She plays vivaciously from memory and belts out the lyrics to “If I Were a Rich Man,” and then some songs from her era I haven’t heard.
A 14-month-old great, great granddaughter of another resident is carried into the room and starts to dance. The pianist is delighted with her audience–the baby, her mother, and I-all folks who have just met Roz. I clap and the baby is twirled. After one song, Roz shows infant a brightly colored velcro toy on her walker; the little girl is fascinated.
After six consecutive songs, Roz rises and takes her walker. I tell her my name and she says, “Sorry, I can’t remember names. It’s so embarrassing living here for four years with the same people and I have no idea what their names are.”
I tell her, “You may not remember names, but they can’t play the piano like you.” She thinks about it and says, “Yes, but wouldn’t you be embarrassed if you couldn’t remember?”
What I will remember from today is not to underestimate people, regardless of age.
But then, I’m writing a story that is not letting me forget it.
The premise is that creative expression is essential for older people and that arts programs can yield dramatic physical and emotional benefits for elders–fewer falls, more mobility, less depression, more social engagement, better sense of self. You’ll have to wait for the substantive stuff.
In the meantime, check out the National Center for Creative Aginghttp://www.creativeaging.org/ to learn more, find out if these programs are offered for your parents or grandparents, or how you can be part of one.
Just one last note: thanks, Roz!