This will be my first Christmas as a Grandma. Leon will be 8 months old! My own son, his dad, never knew my mom, his Grandma. She died 6 weeks after he was born, but not before she got to meet him and hold him on Christmas Day in 1989. I know my mom would have loved singing for my son Jesse. I believe she’ll be singing “through me” to little Leon. Down through the generations – music and love. This little story is in memory of her.
For years I sang Oh Holy Night standing next to my mother in church. We would harmonize and our voices were perfectly matched. After she passed away it was years before I could sing that song. I just couldn’t do it without crying. It’s been over 25 years since she’s been gone. I miss her still – especially this time of year. But now – I can sing Oh Holy Night. It makes me happy to remember my mom even as I revisit the sadness of missing her.
That song is now one of my favorite Christmas gifts. It doesn’t require a credit card and it doesn’t fit into a box. I don’t have to whisper it to Santa or drop hints to my family. I give it to myself, year after year. And I never grow tired of it. Here’s why.
The holidays are a time when the music we hear can seem even more powerful, plunging us deep into memories and eliciting a strong emotional response. Happy or sad - and just like the memory of my mother - often happy and sad at the same time!
We all have these emotional memories linked to music. We can all enjoy the gift of a memory inspired by a song.
For people living with dementia, the songs of the season may be even more powerful; literally giving them access to memories and feelings that at other times may seem too far away to enjoy.
The songs of our youth, including so many well known holiday songs, are stored away in a part of the brain that is often less damaged by dementia.
Because of that, music is one of the most precious gifts we can give to someone living with memory loss.
Oh Holy Night gives me a sweet memory of my mother. I can literally feel the warmth of her love. And even though she is gone, I enjoy a sense of connection to her.
I spend my days singing with older adults – many of whom are living with dementia. Each day I see the music crack open the memories. I hear the stories, the memories. And I feel the love.
Awakening memories and feelings, connecting and sharing joy – these are the gifts of music.
And aren’t they the best gifts anyone could receive?
Do you have a cherished memory that you can gift to yourself during this busy holiday season?