It began with Mabel. I’m not exactly sure what day of the week it was when I first met her but, I’m certain the month was January. Time, wasn’t really important to her and when I was with her, it wasn’t important to me either. She didn’t depend on a calendar and she rarely, if ever, looked at the clock.
Mabel wore glasses and had a complexion that was smooth and virtually un-wrinkled. She had dark brown hair with patches of gray that had tight curls after her weekly visits to the beauty shop. She wore no makeup, which made her appear younger than her chronological age. I don’t know how old Mable was when we met. She never told me.
She rarely spoke to me at all. In fact, she hadn’t spoken to anyone, in quite some time; which is why I was taken aback the first time I heard her voice.
We were in the sitting room. The afternoon sun was warming the space and I was standing in the middle of the circle, my back to Mabel. There were others in the room and they were all looking at me, waiting for the action to begin. From the corner, came a staccato voice in a loud nearly shrill tone, “One, Two, Three…” I spun around to see who the owner of this outburst was….but, the voice had vanished. I glanced in Mabel’s direction. Mabel stared straight ahead, her eyes wide, her expression blank.
I began passing out the simple instruments to those in the circle. Jingle bells for some, maracas’ for others. Our music circle would begin shortly. Once again, the voice broke through the stillness, strong and emphatic….”One, Two, Three….” This time, when I spun around I was quite certain the words were coming from the seemingly quiet and detached Mabel. I walked over to her, “Mabel? Are you alright,” I asked as I gently touched her shoulder. She gave no response…just a mere pursing of her lips.
As I stepped away, the voice broke the silence again. It was indeed, Ms. Mabel. I smiled. It was great to hear her voice.
When I met Mabel, she was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She was a resident at the skilled nursing facility where I worked as an Activity assistant. When she wasn’t lying in bed, Mabel was lifted by no-less than two people into her wheelchair. Mabel had been in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease for quite some time by the time I came to know her. Her hands were in a permanent clenched position that usually rested uncomfortably on her upper chest, just under her chin. Mabel couldn’t eat, drink, dress or bathe without assistance. She was what’s known to professional caregivers as ‘Total Care’. I found her fascinating.
Her big brown eyes, although fixed into a constant glare-like trance, still glistened and danced when enticed to do so. Mabel barely spoke, but those eyes had much to say. The private room that was her home was filled with family pictures and mementos from years gone by. Mabel had family and Mabel was loved.
Mable’s inability to speak in full sentences never stopped me from talking with her. Yes, I did all the talking, but I was convinced that Mabel knew exactly what I was saying. I held her hand and told her about the weather. I would give Mabel a daily weather report and share details about my life. Some days I got choked up when I sat close to her bed and held one of her family photos up for her to see. I never actually met one of her family members in person, but their presence was everywhere.
On that sunny day, in the sitting room as the other residents anxiously awaited our music circle activity to begin, I pressed ‘play’ on the boombox and the recognizable rhythm of a familiar tune burst through the speakers. I stood in the center of the circle coaxing, enticing and encouraging the residents to shake their hand held instruments and move to the music. Before long we were singing, humming, laughing and enjoying.
Mabel was in the music circle but unable to hold an instrument. Her gaze remained fixed and her lips remained pursed tightly shut. Undeterred, I approached her while I shook the maraca’ and sang the familiar tune. My smile was large and my heart filled with love for my friend Mabel. And, out of the corner of my eye I saw the movement. I quickly looked down, just in time to see Mable’s slipper-covered foot, tapping in time with the music, as it rested on the foot pedal of her wheelchair.
Yes, Mable was moving to the music in the only way she was able. My heart skipped a beat while it swelled with pride. In an instant, Mabel taught me a valuable lesson. Regardless of what Alzheimer’s disease had done to her body. Regardless of what abilities had been robbed from her. On that day, in that moment, with familiar music playing while an activity assistant sang off key – Mabel tapped her foot and kept time with the beat. And that was music to my ears!