My mother is in a Long Term Care facility, far away. It takes me 3 days to drive up to see her and 3 days to drive back home where I build my WrenSong flutes. When I go to see mom, I spend a couple of weeks in the city and visit her daily, for most of the day.
She has dementia. Each stage of her deterioration is very sad to watch. She doesn’t always know what is going on now but, true to form, she had opinions. Now, as I am at a distance and she is losing her speech — yet another stage — we relate via tone of voice and with the kindness and unselfish help of my incredible aunt.
When I last visited mom, it was warm outside and I would wheel her outside in the courtyard a lot. We played games like throw the bean bags in the pail. She’d always liked competitive games and has had extraordinarily good hand-eye coordination. I was always relieved when she would engage in some of form of physical exercise as she sat in her wheelchair.
She liked to eat. I’d bring fresh berries one day; watermelon another. If she had trouble with her words, she never had trouble asking, “What else you got in that bag of yours?” She was hoping for cheese, gingerale, crackers or cookies. There was always something in the bag for her. As I would fill the bag for the day’s visit, I’d always wonder at what point you can’t tame the wild progression of her diabetes. Should we ever stop trying to eat healthily?
Music was essential throughout the visit. Perhaps moreso for me than her, but mom was always soothed by it. Sometimes to the point of falling asleep in the warming sunshine as I would play on the mandolin my aunt had given me, one of my WrenSong flutes or a friend’s ukulele.
One visit, thanks to Tammy (activities coordinator) and my Aunt who was playing the piano, I was playing one of my WrenSong flutes for some of the residents. They liked to hear “Amazing Grace” and as I ran out of songs I would play “Amazing Grace” again and again. Some of the residents fell asleep. My mother watched me as if I were performing on a cruise ship — her idea of where she was at that point in time. Seeing her sit there looking earnestly at me not really realizing what was happening to her took my breath away more than the playing of the song.
This song is named for mom. One sunny afternoon my ukulele-playing friend and I were outside in the courtyard at the Long Term Care facility with mom. We were improvising since we’d already played through all the hymns several times. Mom was watching calmly. The phrase from “Mary’s Song” — Keep looking Upward — came about during one of our improvisations.
It’s not until several months later, sitting inside on a rainy cold day after I have finished all my art/craft shows for the year, that I re-discovered our recording of the improvisation in the courtyard.
Using an A minor yellow (mom’s favorite color) flute for the melody line, I then added a D minor low flute. I wanted texture as well as the low notes so you should hear some breathiness in it. You can achieve a “breathy” effect by pulling the bird back from the TSH (true sound hole) just a bit. Unfortunately this also affects how “in tune” you can play the flute. I went for the “breathy” effect.
Finally, a branch flute is the high A minor, four-holed flute dancing above the others. It is a horse chestnut branch flute I made from the tree that grew from sapling to the great tree in the backyard of the house where I grew up .
The song needs to be upbeat — for her, for me, for our hope with dealing with dementia as it invades our world. When we find there are things we can do to prevent or delay dementia, we need to do them. The book I’ve read several times that includes helpful strategies to delay or prevent dementia: Jean Carper’s “100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age Related Memory Loss.”