In most of my visits to the dementia care house, I notice how the condition of the patients has deteriorated. Their illness can’t be cured and it can only go worse and worse. As I play in less departments since last year, I see the same patients more often. And I notice that writing this blog helps me to better remember them and what happened during my visits. After my last visit last week, I was very happy but couldn’t say why. Wait a minute, it’s because something very special happened: improvement!
I call it improvement and maybe it is just the difference we all have between good and bad days. It was maybe just a better day. But we (A. and me) had such a feeling of joy when the session ended! A feeling that we again accomplished something special together. Maybe what happened is very little and won’t last long, but it so heart warming.
I already talked in a previous post about the old man who used to play harmonica and for/with whom I played once in his bedroom. At that time, he could just blow a little and move his instrument from left to right and back, not playing anything specific. But this time, I was playing in the living room and he was sitting there with other patients. After a couple of tunes, A. offered to fetch his harmonica in his bedroom. The smile in his eyes when he saw his music instrument!! He started immediately to blow a few times from left to right and back. And rapidly, he started to play a tune, a real tune with rhythm, melody, beginning and end. After that, he sang a song that A. recognised as an old Dutch song. Then he played another tune on his harmonica, again something recognisable, with good rhythm, melody and harmony. And at the end of this third song, he put the harmonica back on the table saying: “it’s not as beautiful as your flute.” And he listened to me again.
I was amazed. I don’t know if the sounds of the shakuhachi, the music I played, or just listening to me playing inspired him to find back some tunes in his memory and play them, but this was a very beautiful moment.
In my last post, I mentioned my visit to the African woman Bernadette and how we talked a bit in French. So when we arrived in her bedroom, I said “Bonjour Bernadette”. And she answered: “Bonjour Mama”. Wow. I didn’t expect this one.
She was more quiet and not screaming in her African dialect. She answered in Dutch to A. and in French to me. The level difference between the two languages was amazing. In Dutch, she says “yes”, “no”, “thank you”, “nice”, which is already something. In French, she makes elaborated sentences: “toi, tu es née au Sénégal?”, “moi, mon pays c’est…” (couldn’t understand the name of the place). French obviously brings back nice memories to her. She spoke much more than during the previous visit, with longer sentences. I can’t say if she liked the music much, but we had a great time together.
Dutch rhythmic song
The last woman we visited last week was very agitated. It was not the first time we tried to calm her down with music, but she can’t stand it very long and mostly stays agitated. She speaks strangely, like she would sing a rhythmic child song on one tone, but apparently using slang and bad words instead of the normal words. She looks stuck in the repetition of rhythm and words and she sounds each time quite aggressive. She didn’t look that happy to see us but accepted I play music for her though, after making clear she had no intention to applaud. A. put her hand in hers and stroked it to calm her down. The woman had difficulties to stop repeating her litany. But eventually she became more quiet. At the end of the first song, A. said I was French and that she knew that the old woman used to teach French when she was a secondary school teacher. I said a few words in French in addition, but she couldn’t answer me. However, while hearing French words and A. talking about her past, she suddenly let go of her rhythmic flow of words and became closer to herself again: a retired teacher, remembering having taught Dutch, French and German to kids and teenagers. She couldn’t speak French anymore, but she was smiling when talking with A. about her school time. I played another piece and she clapped in her hands at the end. During the third one, she started to relax more and more. When we left her, she said she enjoyed the music, thanked us and was very calm.
End of the visit
When I left the department, I came across the old man who plays harmonica. I said “good bye” to him. My flute was packed in my backpack. He didn’t seem to recognise me and didn’t answer. I thought “what happened is maybe already gone, but I believe he will enjoy the flute again the next time”.
See you next time.