Grief and the Music That Calms It


A few months ago, I wrote a post about my Dad, Alzheimer’s Disease, and music. It is six months later, and the disease has just about run its course in his life.

Yesterday, I drove down and spent some time with him and my two sisters. He was alone in his room at the nursing home when I arrived. I leaned gently over his bed, told him it was me, and asked how he was doing. There was no response that let me know that he recognized me. His voice is barely audible now, even from 6 inches away, so I barely could make out anything he said. But I could tell he was saying something about his shoulder hurting, then turned over and faced the wall.

Dad is almost 87 years old. I last saw him about a month ago. Then, he was pulling himself around in his wheel chair, following people around with his eyes, talking intelligibly at times, and eating reasonably well. Yesterday, he could not see, could not speak even as loud as a whisper, and had almost entirely stopped eating. His body has wasted away to the point that he is totally helpless, little more physically than a skin draped skeleton. He is under hospice care now, and all that can be done is to do whatever is possible to keep him as comfortable as we can.

In spite of almost daily reports from my sisters about his condition, I was not prepared for what I saw yesterday. And today the grief I feel is extremely heavy, even though I had considered myself as being prepared for any eventuality with him.

This morning, I had a heavy feeling inside that I had not yet named. A few minutes ago, it was as if I could sense my music calling. I took the cover off of my Yamaha S90ES keyboard, and with headphones on, my music and I went away for a few minutes. For some reason, the hymn In The Garden came to mind, and I played it several times with a grand piano setting. Then, as I could sense myself starting on a journey toward some place yet unknown, I changed to a setting that I sometimes use to evoke an almost ethereal mood. For several minutes, I played spontaneously. Then, suddenly, from the depths of some place I never thought I would have to go, tears came. They dripped on my hands as if somehow pushing the notes through the tips of my fingers. And behind the tears, came a sense of release – a sense that a pressure relief valve had been opened.

Music is a healer. In the same way that it can help Alzheimer’s patients, it can help those family members and friends who are struggling to deal with the horrible changes that the disease presents in their loved ones. And today, it helped me.