How Can I Keep from Singing

(Courtesy of Mohawk Trail Concerts)

I apologize for the length of this blog post! As we often do we have had our ups and downs this week in the Weisblat household. I’ve done snippets of writing here and there, and each time things went up or down I’ve had to add a bit to the “Pulling Taffy” chronicle. I’m afraid the narrative hasn’t ended up entirely smooth–but then life isn’t entirely smooth, either.

In general, the high spots of my time with Taffy this week have outweighed the low ones although they haven’t canceled them out entirely.

Last Wednesday—shortly after I wrote my post here about my mother’s sunny temperament and general feeling of being home, in fact—she took a turn for the worse.

Being attuned (finally!) to the signs, I took only a few hours to figure out that her symptoms indicated yet another urinary-tract infection. She was back on antibiotics by midday on Thursday.

She continued to go downhill, however. She barely moved her feet for much of Friday. Indeed, she spent at least half an hour on the floor that morning. She had decided to sit down there for a rest, and it took quite a bit of persuasion and muscle (sometimes I literally pull Taffy) to get her onto a chair.

Luckily, music, friends, and antibiotics eventually perked her up. On Saturday and Sunday she was back in stride.

The turning point came Friday night. We had talked all week about going to the first concert in Mohawk Trail Concerts’ summer season. We are lucky enough to be able to find chamber music ten minutes away from us, and Taffy has enjoyed the concerts since their beginning in 1970.

I was torn as the time to leave for the Charlemont Federated Church (home to MTC) approached Friday evening. On one hand, I knew that if we didn’t go to the concert, Taffy wouldn’t consciously miss it. And I didn’t want to cross the line between stimulation and torture by dragging her to an event that would tire her out more than it would benefit her.

On the other hand, I knew that she loved music and these concerts in particular. And, let’s face it, I was in the mood for a little chamber music myself!

So I worked hard to get her to the concert. We were actually a little late arriving because it took me so very long to transfer her from our couch to the wheelchair and thence to the car. I whisked the wheelchair into the church sanctuary just as co-artistic director Ruth Black was announcing the program.

An amazing thing happened when the concert started, however. In about ten minutes’ time my mother moved from weak and listless to energetic and alert.

The music cut through her brain and went straight to her heart.

Of course, it’s possible that the antibiotics chose that moment to kick in. Nevertheless, I credit much of her transformation to the power of that music. She stayed up until 10:30 that night and awoke refreshed the next morning, humming away.

On Saturday our neighbors at Singing Brook Farm here in Hawley organized their annual picnic by the Dam, a wonderful structure they fill every year so that the brave among us can enjoy an icy swim. As we nibbled we caught up with friends and neighbors—and watched Will Cosby and company put in the gate that traps water in the Dam.

Dam It!

In church on Sunday Taffy heard me sing all-American songs. More importantly, she was greeted by all and sundry with smiles and hugs. And our friend Susan brought baby Joshua to sit next to Taffy’s wheelchair. My mother was mesmerized by the almost-one-year-old child; the two happily (and, luckily, QUIETLY) played through the service.

Sunday afternoon my cousins David and Mardi stopped by with their teenage children. My mother couldn’t exactly identify any of the Smith clan (she took to calling young Brandon “Boy,” which reminded me of nothing so much as Tarzan), but she clearly had a wonderful time visiting with them and enjoyed being taken out to dinner. “I don’t know who those people are, but I really like them,” she told me as they headed home to Connecticut.

By Monday the happy but busy weekend had tired Taffy out. When I let her take too long a morning nap to recover she ended up without enough food and drink in her system. It was all I could do to get her to sip a bit of energy drink from time to time.

Eventually the drink plus a little food revived her. We went down to the Dam. Taffy sat in her straw hat drinking in the sunshine and the greenery. I managed a foray into the frigid water to pay my respects to the mountain laurel on the far side of the Dam.

As I wheeled my mother to the car I remarked that our dog Truffle, who had retrieved her tennis ball from the water several times, seemed very happy.

“This is heaven for her,” said Taffy. “For us, too. We will come here every day.”

It was a lovely thought. Unfortunately, as my mother tried to get back into the house (we’re working on a ramp, but for the moment we are stuck with a couple of unavoidable steps) she collapsed in a little heap. My neighbor Alice and her friend Jody managed to help me get Taffy into the house, feed her another very small snack, and settle her down for a nap.

She revived a bit later, but the weekend as a whole made me appreciate her increasing fragility even as it made me appreciate our friends, relatives, and neighbors.

I can’t really regret packing so much activity into a few days. Taffy adored her holiday weekend. I do think we’ll need to cut back a bit, however, since clearly fun has its price. As Taffy used to say in her more lucid days, “everything in moderation” is the key to happiness and health.

The ups and downs of our recent saga–and the role music has played in my mother’s happier moments–remind me of one of the songs I sang in church Sunday morning, the Quaker tune “How Can I Keep from Singing.”

The song doesn’t minimize life’s pains, but it does encourage the listener (and the singer) to keep on embracing the joys of life and music.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear that music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

On a Happier Day: Visiting and Noshing at the Dam

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am continuously amazed at your love and patience with your beloved mom. Every mom should have the caring family such as you. The mansion you are building in Heaven will glow with love and devotion that the Heavenly hosts will rejoice with you my dear friend. God bless and keep you well and happy, perhaps your study of the elder dementia/Altzheimer conditions will be benefitted with a cure or at least a partial research study on music and the brain.
    Best wishes and huge hugs. Loyce

  2. I can only imagine the energy it takes to bring Taffy the experiences that you continually provide for her. Once again, you are an angel among us Tinky. I know music has a calming affect on children (I use music in my physical education classes) and adults and can also stimulate movement. Taking a swim in the pool sounds so refreshing especially with the hot and humid weather we’re having here in central MA. Keep on keepin’ on Tinky!

  3. How joyous it was to hear your voice in church…and see your lovely mother in her pretty hat! It was a touching moment, indeed, to see 1- year old Joshua and 90-year old Jan keeping each other company during the service! We’ll keep on singing…always.

  4. I was glad to finally see what the Federated Church looks like — heard about it often in the years when Claire and I were friends down here on Long Island. She said that her mother would call the pastor her local rabbi! Claire, Amy, and Lyzz would probably enjoy the experiences you had this weekend. I know that they all used to enjoy Charlemont a lot. Nice that you have been able to get back up there for the summer.

  5. I didn’t know “How Can I Keep from Singing.” I listened to Enya and a couple of others on youtube performing it. I love that song.
    I’m trying to find a free piano download, with no luck so far. Since it’s public domain by now, I’m sure it’s available. I’ll keep searching.

    Thanks for telling us about it. It’s a beautiful hymn. It reminds me of one that we did years ago in church choir. Think it was by Robert Lowry, as well. It’s been so many years since I played organ or piano at church.

    Wish I could sing, but it was my husband who had a beautiful tenor voice.

    Always enjoy your blogs. Keep the faith.

    Margie

  6. My heart tells me to say that you should cram in as many good times as you can, even if it shortens the time you have left with you Mum, whereas as my head says have less fun, but more time. I guess there must be a middle ground in there ……

  7. What about the aide you mentioned in an earlier post? You said she and Jan were getting along so nicely. If you had her along when you went on these little excursions, it would seem to me to be a great help. An extra pair of hands could work wonders.

  8. I’m continually in awe of your good humor, energy and patience, Tinky. Makes my computer problems seem very small indeed. So glad that Jan was able to enjoy the music and the company of the youngsters. And you’re braver than I am…that water looks cold!

    • Loyce, we’re all indeed hoping for a cure; thanks for the sweet words.

      Doris, I don’t feel like an angel, but I do agree about the effects of music. I hope you’re staying as cool as you can.

      Cara, you’re a dear; thanks as always for the warm welcome.

      Margie, I hope you sing even if you “can’t.” It’s a natural human thing to do.

      Frayed, I’m not good at middle ground, but I AM trying! I appreciate the empathy.

      Nancy, I do have lovely memories of that very “rabbi,” Hank Bartlett–a wonderful man! As for the aide, she isn’t available every day, unfortunately for us (but fortunately for her other client family!). We are working on more coverage.

      Abigail, I’m used to the cold water And you have my sympathy for your computer woes. Non-persons can be even MORE frustrating than persons!

  9. How Can I Keep From Singing. Tinky, never was the title of a song more representative of someone than that title is representative of you and your spirit…inherited, I’ll wager, from lovely Taffy. Please do keep singing.

    • DEFINITELY inherited from Taffy, Grad. Thanks….

  10. I love this post. What a loving care giver you are.
    Jeannette Brown

    • I did my best!
      Yours in song,
      Tinky


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