Awakenings, Music, and Mom

We’re home.

My head is spinning from our 10 day whirlwind road trip…but, we’re home.  I’m trying to adjust to the surreal reality of one more boy’s bedroom being empty, but I’m also looking forward to a day of “playing house”.  I’m just itching to get cleaning and rearranging.  It’s been far too long.

But, before I get out the brooms and dusting cloths, I want to share a special story ~ not just because I think you’ll like it, but because I don’t want to forget it myself.


Long before my mom was diagnosed with dementia, I watched a movie called “Awakenings”.  Unfortunately, I have only a vague recollection of the details of the movie.  I do, however, remember the basic concept being a man who developed some kind of medication that caused nearly comatose patients with dementia to come “back to life” again.  If I remember correctly, the cure had only short term effects and I ended up sobbing as the movie finished.

I’ve thought of that concept a lot as I ponder my mom’s dementia.  I wonder what it would be like if somehow her mind would clear and she would “come to life” again.  I long to communicate with the person I remember her to be ~the woman who loved to talk and laugh and sing and give wise advice.  The challenge for me is to live in the current reality ~ being grateful for who she was and loving her as she is.

My siblings graciously try to prepare me ahead of time before each visit with my mom.  When I only see her seldomly, the changes in her condition can be incredibly shocking.  Last year was the first time I’d seen her since her speech was gone.  They had prepared me for that, but oh, I found it hard to not hear one word from her once vibrant and chatty self.

This year they prepared me that she might be afraid of me. I prayed fervently that my once-a-year visit wouldn’t end badly…but, honestly, I didn’t know what to expect.  The nature of the illness is unpredictable, to say the least.

I braced my heart as I tentatively walked up to her that day (6 days ago).  As I leaned over to say “hi” to her, her eyes met mine with only confusion.


I chattered like a crazy little magpie as I cheerfully “introduced” my husband and youngest boy.  We were strategically doing this in an effort to not overwhelm and scare her.

photo (1)

I couldn’t tell, honestly, if she was afraid,annoyed,ready to bolt, or just fine!  We proceeded to pull up chairs and try to “visit” with her over the overbearing noise of a tv blaring in the room.  It wasn’t the ideal location, but we couldn’t convince her to get out of her chair to go to a more pleasant location.

UNTIL we asked this question,

“Mom, do you want to come sing with us?”

Immediately she grabbed the arm of the chair and stood up.  We reached for her hand and headed into the dining room where the piano was.

Our youngest son was along with us that day.  I know from first hand experience that situations like this can be very awkward for a teenager, so I had handed him my camera and said, “Just take some pictures if you’d like.”

Little did I know what a photographer he’d be!  I’m so grateful for all the candid shots he took…so our little “miracle moment” is well documented!

As we got mom all situated by the piano, I sat at the bench and opened the book of hymns the nursing home had available.

getting ready to sing

As I flipped through the pages, my mind was whirling at top speed.  Although I grew up taking piano lessons, I haven’t played even one note for at least 3 years.  I prayed that I would somehow remember the basics…  Desperate times call for desperate measures, you know!

I can’t even remember the first song we tried, but it wasn’t long until our own “Awakenings” moment happened.

mom singing 2

Mom started to sing along.

Words seem woefully inadequate as I try to describe that moment. It was as if time and seasons had melted away and we had a teeny tiny glimpse of the Mom who was ~  this dear woman who had not spoken for well over a year…was suddenly singing like she did for so many years.

Song after song.

It is Well with My Soul. Amazing Grace. Trust and Obey. Great is Thy Faithfulness.

The combination of the incredulous moment and the words of the songs affected us deeply.  Every now and then a tear would sneak out of our eyes.  And, as I peeked at mom while singing…

a tear snuck out of hers, too.

It was a gift straight from our amazing Creator who designed our brains so intricately!  I just don’t understand.

But, I’m grateful He does.

After about 10 songs, we realized mom had probably had enough.  The dining room was filling up for the lunch hour, and she seemed like she was anxious not to miss is.

As we stood up to say good-bye, I saw in Mom’s eyes what my brother had warned me about.

She suddenly seemed afraid of me.

My heart sunk, and I just didn’t want to leave with that as my last memory.

I so longed to give her a hug and kiss her downy hair and tell her I loved her.  So, I took a deep breath, and kept talking.

photo (3)

“Mom, we’re going to have to go soon, but I’d really like to give you a hug first.  Would that be ok?”

Of course, there is never any response, so I just gently did it anyway.

hugging mom

I teased my husband and son that my hug got her all warmed up, because after that, she very willingly & eagerly hugged (and squeezed!) both of them!

Before we walked out the door, I asked my husband to take one more picture of mom and I.  We lined up for our little photo shoot.  Right before he snapped the picture, he “peeked” out from behind it and said to Mom,

“Oh, I think you can give me a little smile, can’t you?”, and this is what happened.


That smile is so precious to me…

I can’t tell this story without thanking my sister-in-law for being with us that day.  She helps me put my courage on when I go for my once-a-year visits with mom.  Her kindness and care and confidence are exactly what I need to help me through these bittersweet visits, and I think she’s walked me through each one since mom has been diagnosed!  As these scenes unfolded, she whipped out her IPhone and got some footage of Mom singing.

If you are looking for some awesome music to put on your ITunes, this won’t be it, but for those of you who’ve known my mom, I thought you may find this to be a gift, too.

And, as a humorous side note:  My mom was our church pianist for many years.  She was good.  Really good.  I, however, am not!:)  I found it quite funny when she would scowl down at the piano keys when I’d hit a wrong note…and I hit many!  It still amazes me how our minds work.  And for you moms who are struggling to get your kids to practice music lessons, you might try telling them that if someday their minds start to slip, music is the last thing to go.

I think that’s an incredible fact!

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  1. How wonderful, Rita! I wish I could have been there. I too often have tears there, but not of joy, but because I am so saddened at our “losing” Kay. So glad you had this miracle visit!

  2. I’m so happy you had those special moments with your Mom. How wonderful that you all were able to share by singing hymns. Glad God gave you that glimpse of your Mom.

  3. What a gift! You will treasure that time forever! Wish we could hear her beautiful voice again. She gave us smiles yesterday but didn’t sing with us. God gave me a gift years ago after our mom was no longer speaking. It actually happened the same month she passed away. I was telling her goodbye and she looked at me and said, “I love you.” I will wipe my tears now….

  4. My tears are still coming! I’m so happy that you had this special time with your Mom. She did sing and play the piano when I visited last year, but not even a smile this year. Reminds me so much of my visits to Mom – – always made sure I went to the Hymn Sing with her, and she sang and knew the words long after she spoke too. How wonderful it will be when we all get to heaven and are restored in every way and can truly share in fellowship with our loved ones and our Savior!

  5. What a precious gift of time. I lost my mom almost 20 years ago… she had alzheimers.. what a horrific disease for all involved…. Thank you for sharing your story with us.. It is amazing how music will stay with us forever… Thanks ~!

  6. Thanks so much for sharing,Rita. You really made me cry and I’m not a very emotional person. It was just such a beautiful story, and I’m so happy for you that you had such a special time with your mom. It really is so difficult to be losing them and know that you’ll never have them as a vibrant part of your life. Good thing we have the hope of being in eternity together with our loved ones, with new bodies.

  7. I shed a few tears as I read your blog today Rita…such a touching miracle for you all!!! I’m heading off this weekend to visit friends, and he was diagnosed with Frontal Temporal Dementia 4-5 years ago, I haven’t seen them for 9 months and know I will see some deterioration.
    So thankful you had that special time with your Mom! 🙂

  8. Oh my, dear Rita, thank you sooo much for sharing these pictures and writing about your visit so beautifully. My tears are helping to soothe the ache in my heart for our wonderful mom. I’m glad that you got to share this time with her and see a small, small glimmer of the person she used to be. Won’t it be wonderful to walk through Heaven’s gates and hear Mom’s beautiful laughter? <3

  9. Rita, your story has warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. Your faithfulness as a daughter of Christ is so evident in this story. Your mother is truly blessed to have you as her daughter. The fact that you travel to see her as often as you can and find the courage to do what you did is so precious. God Bless you and your family.

  10. Oh Rita … so thankful that the Lord provided you an opportunity to once again spend some time with your Mom. She is such a special lady and I’m so thankful for you that you were able to realize an answer to pray and hear your dear Mother sing praises to Him. Blessings to you dear friend.

  11. Rita I’m glad you got to spend some quality time with your mom. It was a bitter sweet moment. God was with you and guided you each step of the way. He gave you for a short time a little of your mom back. This is one memory you will never forget.
    When I was going to high school in Wibaux, I remember your mom’s laugh and smile. I can still hear her and see in my head. I have not seen her in over 30 yrs.
    I know how blessed you are. My grandparents were in the Wibaux Nursing Home was home for Thanksgiving. I went to see them, and grandpa was talking up a storm and asking me questions. Which he hasn’t been able to do in yrs. I will alway remember that. He passed away that Christmas Eve. My son was born the following month just shy of his birthday.
    God shows us miracles every day! You were blessed that day!

  12. How precious!! Thank you Rita for sharing your story of love, courage, hope and faithfulness. God has truly blessed his faithful servants. Tears roll down my cheeks for you my friend. To hear a mother’s voice is unforgettable. This visit was a special gift for you.
    You will be able to cherish those few minutes of her voice until you see her whole again in heaven! It was amazing how she knew each word and phrase of the hymns, God really did make us intricately.
    Thanks Irwin for teasing her to smile just once for the camera, you caught a miracle : )
    Thank you for blessing us!

  13. Dear Rita, Thank You so much sharing that priceless gift of moment with Your Mother! Stories like Your’s makes believe that even in darkness there will be light, if You just have belief. I hope You can sing with Your Mother also next Year!

  14. Rita,
    I too shed tears as I read your story because i can relate in a very REAL way. I am about your age, and my mom also has alzheimers, a terrible sad disease. My mom still jibbers words, but they don’t make sense at all. I’m pretty sure she could sing and know all the words to the same hymns you played though. I could see the same longing in your face, and hug , that I feel every time I visit my mom. I too long for one more “chat’ with my mom , a chance to catch up on life , and let her know I am a nana now.
    We too are believers and know we have a hope in Christ, of heaven and no more tears or sadness. So thankful . Blessings to you
    Joanne ( from New Brunswick , Canada )

  15. Thanks for sharing, Rita. This is beautiful. Music, ….and God….and our minds….are amazing things! So glad God gave you these moments.


  16. I just discovered your blog yesterday through pinterest and have been enjoying exploring it. But this post tops all of the decorating-themed ones. How beautiful that God inspired you to try singing with your mom. The dementia may have ahold of her mind, but her spirit found expression through praise music to her Creator. Video made me cry a little–lost my own dear mom 2 yrs ago and am watching my father’s mind begin to wane. God bless

  17. Pingback: Mom’s Lullaby

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