It happened last evening. Bo’s brother was visiting and we were sitting in the family room together watching TV. Bo looked toward the set, but didn’t understand what was happening, although he occasionally smiled if there was something obviously physical and funny, like the main character rolling down a muddy hill.
But Bo tired soon so we got him up from the sofa to go upstairs. As we started out of the room, the scene on the TV changed to a church service with the congregation singing a hymn. Bo stopped abruptly, looked at the TV and began to cry, actually sobbing. The tears ran down his cheek as his hand moved to the rhythm of the music, and he said, “It’s so beautiful.”
I watched him, amazed, tears in my own eyes. What was happening? You see, Bo was never a religious man, never went to church except for an occasional special occasion, and he enjoyed singing carols at Christmas Eve service with me. Occasionally he would comment about a favorite hymn such as “Onward Christian Soldiers” or “Amazing Grace.” I have a CD that a friend gave to him containing a couple of favorite hymns that they shared, but I don’t’ remember him ever listening to it.
His brother and I tried to recall a significant occasion when Bo might have heard the hymn (it wasn’t one of the more popular ones) but there was none. His family didn’t attend church in Aruba, neither of his parents had music at their memorial services. But he did love music in general, especially classical, folk and country, mostly music with a rousing rhythm or military sound like Tchaikovsky’s Overture of 1812 with its canons or military marches. He loved HMS Pinafore and Carmina Burana. But to cry over a hymn?
I have read about music therapy and how music may be the last connection that memory loss patients have with their sensory world. How I would love to know what memory, what emotion, that hymn tapped in Bo’s brain.
Now I plan to play more music, to try different kinds of music when he’s awake to see if it brightens his day. I always played music in the car for him to enjoy on our rides, but often in the house he wanted quiet because he suffers from tinitis. I plan to re-play that church scene on the movie that moved him so last night to see if he has a similar reaction again. I will also play the CD of hymns that Mary Anne sent to him.
We had another surprise last evening when, after a number of years of not knowing anyone in his family, no recognition, no memories, Bo entered the kitchen for dinner, saw his brother Vlad at the table and asked, “Is Igor (his other brother, who is deceased) coming too?” We all stopped, amazed at this question. “No, he can’t come tonight. He has something else to do,” Vlad had to answer.
“Oh, OK,” was Bo’s casual reply. During the rest of the evening, we had no idea if he knew Vlad or just accepted him as a fun guy who was having dinner with him.
And while these things happen — these unexpected events in Bo’s life — I struggle to explain them, always telling myself that if I watch more closely, I will be able to understand the puzzle in his brain and how the pieces move around, disappear and reappear. But I can’t find a pattern. Just when I think something makes sense, it doesn’t.