When I was 12 years old my mother wouldn’t let me to go to the junior high dances. She insisted that I wait until I was 13. Trust me, the months dragged on that year in seventh grade until my birthday in March. And then, be still my heart, I finally found myself at my first dance.
I remember the dimmed church basement and the crepe paper draped and drooping between the dark wooden beams of the low ceiling. I remember I was wearing a moss-colored, plaid kilt skirt and a matching soft, green sweater that I had gotten for Christmas.
And then it happened.
The boy I had been pining for (his name was Skip) asked me to dance. (That's a picture of us together in 7th grade.)
The song? Cherish by the Association.
To this day, whenever I hear that song I can see my handsome prince with his soft blonde hair and brown eyes. (Okay – I’m exaggerating – but he was cute!)
I can almost feel his tentative arms around me as we “danced” in that awkward way that only 13-year-olds can do, especially when the chaperones are lurking nearby.
I close my eyes and I am back in that church basement. I get a warm, fuzzy feeling as dreamy memories of my first boyfriend and my teenage years come flooding back.
Why do I have such vivid memories of this?
I haven’t seen Skip in decades.
But that song…That song…
In my work with Singing Heart to Heart I use music to engage, connect, awaken memories and bring joy to elders, many of whom are living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
Music from our youth, especially love songs, can reach people in a profoundly simple way, just like the song Cherish still does for me.
As we approach Valentine’s Day it’s only natural to think about love songs. These songs can be highly emotional and linked to some of our deepest memories. For that reason, I encourage you to seek out the love songs that will reach the people you serve. For example, if someone is 90 you will want to find love songs from the 1940s. And then, be ready to listen. You will no doubt hear some lovely stories that will bring you into a closer relationship with the people you care for.
What about tears?
Tears may come. There may be songs that make people feel sad. Music creates opportunities for people to express grief and for you to offer comfort. Don’t be afraid of this. Allow people to express sorrow and acknowledge their feelings. Here are some ways you might respond.
“That song brought back a beautiful memory didn’t it?” Or “You have such wonderful memories don’t you?”
These are good responses for anyone, but especially for people who are no longer verbal. You’re not asking them to answer questions. You are simply acknowledging their feelings. Remember that tears may be a way for a non-verbal person to release and express emotions.
“Did that song remind you of someone special? Tell me about them.”
This response is better for people who are able to verbalize and share stories with you. You may be surprised that a detailed memory “shakes loose.”
Valentine’s Day and love songs. A time to listen with both your ears and your heart.