I’ve always sung with the music in the car. I’ve been that person you pull alongside at the intersection who is in the car alone, mouth moving, singing away. And yes, people have made fun of me. It hasn’t stopped me. I know the words to thousands of songs, maybe tens of thousands.
I don’t know if I sang too much or sang the wrong way, but in the past few years, I have lost my singing voice. Like Julie Andrews, sort of, without the fame, fabulous singing career or new turn as a children’s book author. Some people are over-achievers.
This loss has been a huge blow to me personally, regardless at the relief of my passengers and the drivers around me. While there is probably some surgical procedure that would help, I’m not willing at this time to go that route. Instead, I’m now listening to the radio and to all of the music I have stored on my various devices. It’s a whole new world.
I have rediscovered why I enjoy the musicians in my collection. I hear the voice, the instruments, the highs and lows of the song very clearly. I find it almost equally satisfying and it brings a smile to my face.
Caregiving can be like that. We experience the changes in our loved one, the disease, this different relationship first as a tremendous loss, and we wonder how life will go on as we know it. We are sad and we try to get back to where we were. But at some point, we face the facts. There isn’t any going back.
We can choose to go forward. As we say in our Stress-busting Program, we may not be able to change our caregiving situation, but we can change how we react to it. We can reframe our situation, and look for the positive.
I have recently witnessed this change as well. When my mother who has Alzheimer’s was living at home, her behaviors were very difficult to manage. My father was exhausted trying to keep up with her. Now that she lives in the memory unit of a residential care facility, my father can see my mother again. He can see past the disease to the smile on her face, to the satisfaction in being in each other’s company. Sometimes, they even hold hands, which I haven’t seen them do in years. This brings a smile to my face too.
Do we all have down days when we miss singing or miss the loved one as we knew them? Sure. It happens all the time. But we can rediscover the small things in life that can still make us smile and bring warmth to our hearts. That’s caregiving.
Carol Zernial is Executive Director of the non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation. A noted gerontologist, Ms. Zernial also serves as Chair of the National Council on Aging Board of Directors.