© Imelda Maurer, cdp
News of my mother’s death came by way of a long distance call from my brother early Wednesday evening, February 13th, 1985. I was living in South Carolina at the time, organizing Hanes factory workers in the Carolinas and Virginia. The following day I flew to be with the rest of my family, in shock over a death I was not expecting.
My first morning back in Texas I made my way to the Episcopal-sponsored Bishop Davies Nursing Center where Mother had moved a year earlier. Through my three or four visits during that year, I had benefitted from a warm relationship with Dorothy, the daughter of Mother’s roommate and with the warm and gracious administrator, Helen Wesley.
As I walked into the entrance of the nursing home I saw Dorothy. She had seen me at about the same moment and came with her arms open to greet me. “There’s someone I want you to meet,” she told me. I was introduced to a woman probably in her 40s. “I sang to your mother on Wednesday.”
While this woman was explaining why she had done this, I was engulfed in memory upon memory of music in my mother’s life. Mother sang while she swept the kitchen floor; she sang as she washed the dishes and as she ironed our clothes there with the ironing board close to the radio. She sang in our parish choir. How many cool summer evenings did we spend on the front porch naming song after song that we children wanted her to lead us in. And my next thought was knowing how comforting music must have been for my mother, and realizing that had I been physically present I would not have had the emotional strength to sing without unmeasured weeping. This woman, this stranger, had been there and offered this gift to my mother. I expressed that conviction to this kind woman. Nothing could have comforted my mother more than songs being sung to her in her last hours.
This woman, whose name had already escaped me, told me that her own mother had just moved into this nursing home a month or so earlier. The daughter had joined a church group on death and dying. One of the things she had learned was that hearing is the most tenacious sense, and is probably the last to leave us. And so she sang to my mother! Expressing my gratitude again, I asked her, “Please, tell me your name again”
“Grace”, she said.
Here is a link to a three-minute video featuring a Sister of St Joseph in Los Angeles. It reflects the role of music for persons in hospice care.