It was very hot when I went to the dementia care house last Tuesday for my monthly visit to the elderly people there. They were sheltering in the shadow and the first group I visited was watching a documentary with pictures of mountains and snow. How refreshing! They weren’t that happy when A. turned off the television and even though I played some music from the north of Japan, it was challenging to pass on to them through my breath a feeling of cool air. Most of them did appreciate my musical interlude though, especially a tiny old woman, Mrs M., cuddling a big cuddle dog she always carries around. She loves music and spontaneously hums along with an evident pleasure. Two people were sleeping and two others were waiting to get the television back, but she was the one who was going to give me the biggest surprise of the day.
More people than usual were laying in bed because of the heat. We visited first a very old lady (there was a birthday card in her bedroom with the number 90) who welcomed us with a big smile. She was obviously very happy to get some company. I always admire the way A. manages immediately to get close to every patient and give her/him tenderness and motherly care. Of course, she knows most of them for years because she worked there, but more than the professional care of the nurse’s aid she used to be, what she gives to these people comes directly from her heart. Even though she is much younger than the patients, she is the mother here, hugging and caressing the 90 years-old woman holding her teddy bear like a little girl. It fills my heart with a warm feeling to see with how much attention they both listen to the music with a big smile on their lips.
Time after time
I hadn’t visited B., the African woman, for some time, and she was as usual quite restless. Close to the end of the first tune, she started to shout (what a strong voice she’s got!). She can never go to the common room because of that, A. tells me afterwards. We never insist if the people don’t want more music, we always ask their agreement first. But when A. asked B. if she wanted more music, she said yes, so I played another tune, a honkyoku, A. holding her hand. And during this second tune, she started to relax and came to full quietness. Eventually she prolonged my music with singing her own songs, to which we listened carefully.
It had been a while too since my last visit to Mrs T., -Mrs Nemo-, and I was happy to play for her again. She is one of the first people who made me realise the power of the shakuhachi. I still need to write this story. Her husband comes every day at 3 p.m. after having taking care of her at home for ten years (and I don’t know how many years she has been laying in this dementia care house, but more than 5 years for sure). He is always calm and smiling. His dedication is admirable. He enjoys the music as much as she does. After I played, it said he could hear so many different sounds coming from the flute that it sounded like an orchestra! His wife was almost sleeping when we left, that’s how relaxed she was.
After some more visits, we ended up in our main departement, where I played for a small committee. As Mrs. M. was roaming in the area, she was invited to join.
She doesn’t remember she has listened to me earlier in the afternoon. I play a few songs and end with a song she heard during my first session. She was then singing along, with a few mistakes here and there (it’s a Japanese song not particularly known, unlike Sakura for example, nothing she could have heard of learned before). To my big surprise, she sings the entire song with me, without any mistake! I already noticed before how musical she is, but it’s amazing to see her, session after session, learning and remembering my music. After cleaning up my flute, as she is still around, I compliment her for her singing. She looks surprised: –Did I sing?
Read also: Shakuhachi and dementia, how it started