Today I had the pleasure of playing songs for the patients at The Windsor Memory Care, a center I play at once a month or so. Everyone is always friendly and loving, and they have really become like family to me over the last couple of years! I've seen so many times how powerfully music can move in the mind of someone battling Alzheimer's or Dementia, but today I got to see music move in a different way. I got there today, greeted all my usual friends, got out my guitar and sat down to get ready to play, and I noticed two people I hadn't seen there before. It was a man and a woman sitting next to each other, the man in a chair, the woman in a wheelchair. At first I thought they were both new residents, but after a few songs I realized that the man was a visitor, and the woman in the wheelchair was his wife, who is battling memory loss. Music has a powerful connection to memories. When you hear a song you love, you re-live all the wonderful and not so wonderful moments when you've heard that song before. For a person with Dementia or Alzheimer's, hearing a song you know can bring with it memories that have been forgotten. I can usually see this happening in small foot taps, and smiles from patients as I sing songs to them.
Today I sang one of my very favorite songs,"So Far Away" by Carole King. As soon as I began, the man visiting his wife immediately looked up at me and began to sing along, and gave me a heartfelt look that showed me the song was as dear to his heart as it is to mine. He really got my attention when I began my next song, "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green; a song I play every time I visit The Windsor, as most of the residents and staff know and love it. Starting with the first line "I'm so in love with you", he turns to his wife and with tears in his eyes begins to sing the song to her, every word. I was waiting for her to look and him and smile, maybe hum part of the song with him. As he sings to her, she looks forward with no response.
Memory loss is such a hard thing for someone to go through. At times it can be even harder for the patient's family, to see your loved one change, lose memories, or even be unable to recognize you. It is an incredible and patient love that must be given to someone losing their memory, and I saw it today. As I sang the line "Loving you whether times are good or bad, happy or sad", the man reaches over and takes his wife's hand and sings those words to her, telling her that he isn't going anywhere. On the verge of tears, I almost had to stop in the middle of the song. I looked around the room at the other caregivers and saw in their eyes that they were as moved as I was by this man's love for his wife. When I finished playing, the man came over to me and introduced himself, telling me that he and his wife watched me on The Voice and voted for me. He told me that she was very into our season of the show, and that they so enjoyed sharing that together, because they are both musicians. His wife was a touring music artist and concert pianist when she was younger, loved by many people for her beautiful music, and he said many times how grateful he is that she was able to experience and share music with me today. He is bringing me a copy of her CD when I return to The Windsor next, and I cannot wait to hear it.
God has been teaching me and testing me in unconditional love. He has been giving me examples to emulate, and situations to practice it. Seeing this man's love for his wife, through such a difficult trial, is a beautiful reminder to me of what unconditional love means. Unconditional love doesn't ask "What's in it for me?", it doesn't say "I'll do it, but not if it's too hard", It says "Here I am, no matter what". Unconditional love gives everything it has, and asks for nothing in return. I can see in my life the ways that God is shaping me to love unconditionally, and the situations where he is asking me to give it. In my growing and learning, I need only to look at Jesus, who gave us the perfect example of unconditional love when he gave his life for us. He didn't hold back anything, instead he gave everything. Every day I want to give that love. A love with no boundaries or limitations. Don't you?