My newsfeed brought me videos, yesterday, of contemporary artists (Nick Cave, Danny Elfman, Katy Perry) covering the song ‘Daisy Bell’.
I clicked, I listened and, as music often does, it brought back memories.
My grandma, Lily, taught me ‘Daisy Bell’, or, 'Bicycle Built for Two' as it's sometimes called.
I remember her singing it in the kitchen while making her French toast, which was the best French toast, in the world, EVER.
Daisy remained in Grandma’s mind when the Alzheimer’s progressed into it like an invading army killing her loved ones by erasing them one by one.
I remember the day when my grandma no longer recognized me.
Mom and I went into the nursing home, after school (Mom was a teacher).
Grandma was sitting alone in the front common area.
She was staring straight ahead.
Mom crossed in front of her and Grandma watched Mom as she sat down.
Mom put left hand on Grandma's right hand and turned to face her.
Grandma hadn’t recognized her daughter in some time, but the personal contact didn't bother Grandma, her expression was warm and welcoming.
Perhaps the touch felt familiar.
“Colin’s here,” I think I remember Mom saying.
Grandma looked up and then turned to me, I was now seated on her left hand side.
Her face didn’t light up the way it normally did.
Her lips curved into a smile showing her false teeth, and her Irish eyes sparkled, but it was a ‘Nice to meet you’ smile not a 'So glad to see you' glow.
There was none of the excitement of recognition behind it.
I was the last to go.
She had forgotten everyone else before me.
I should have known my day would come, but I was young, naïve or maybe just hopeful.
Strange looking back at it now, it was like she knew she didn’t know and had accepted that everyday she’d be in a strange place surrounded by strangers.
But she kept smiling.
I don’t remember her talking, but I do recall her singing.
For years to come—Alzheimer’s is neither quick nor merciful—if Mom started to sing Daisy Bell, Grandma would sing it with her.
Daisy Bell wasn’t the only song Grandma still sang, there was also,
‘Oh dear, what can the matter be,
dear, dear, what can the matter be,
Oh dear, what can the matter be,
Johnny’s so long at the fair.’
I’m almost certain she sang Molly Malone and Black Velvet Band.
When she couldn’t sing, anymore, she would hum.
I can’t recall if I sang along.
I’d like to think I did, but I don’t know.
I wish I could remember.
It hurts not to remember.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her.
But music stayed with her, it comforted her.
I am grateful to it for that.
When all that we think of as being us is gone, when all we were is erased, something remains and that something responds to music, love and touch.
Those things endure and they bring pleasure and peace; they allow us to communicate when words lose their meaning; enable us to stay connected to each other.
Even as I write this I can’t trust that my memory is giving me all the correct information but there’s a feeling that stays steady, like a boat’s keel unseen below the surface but helping us deal with the stormy seas.
Like love, this feeling can’t be explained but it can sometimes be relayed in a touch and found in music; a frequency, energy, just beyond the reach of our five senses or even the tools we use to heighten them.
If we let our self be sensitive toward it, it can be felt. It’s the . . . something more. In that something more Grandma is there and she’s still singing. Maybe in the notes themselves or in the silence between them, but in that place, beyond our senses, beyond mind and memory, somewhere in the mystery, she remains. And all it took was a song on my newsfeed to remind me that those who I miss are never far from me.