I’ve always loved to sing. Perhaps it started with my mother’s renditions of “Goodnight, My Love” in her high reedy voice, or my father crooning, “I’m Asleep in the Deep” and “Gaudeamus Igitur” in his basso profundo, rendered even lower if he had just awakened from a nap.
My adoration of the human voice amplified as I discovered musicals and then opera. I can almost always summon the perfect song for the occasion (a talent my friends and family don’t always appreciate), and I know the words to nearly every great Broadway show, not to mention most songs by Gershwin, Porter and Rogers and Hart.
So why, you may ask, did I stop singing, except for the shower and religious services, in 1976?
Life got in the way. It wasn’t a priority. I was raising a family and building a career.
Then Alzheimer’s disease struck J, and much of the time I had away from work was consumed with care. But life has changed. J has been living in a continuing care retirement community for the last 17 months, and she moved to the memory care unit in June. I’ve sold our rambling house and now live in a relatively low-maintenance condo. I still visit J often, and am always a phone call away from a crisis, but I do have more time.
So when a friend invited me to her choir concert last spring, of course I went. Then I started thinking, why not me?
With four singing lessons under my belt, I tackled a demanding audition and, as of September, I’m a second soprano in the 80-woman singing group whose concert I attended.
I knew that singing in a group with demanding musical standards would be a challenge — and it has been. What I didn’t know is that I was joining another supportive community, this one with a musical calling card. We sing to each other for birthdays. We sing to an alto’s mother when she is deathly ill. We sing to another’s sister while she’s in labor.
It is refreshing to belong to a new group where I’m not defined as an Alzheimer’s caregiver. In fact, at an early rehearsal where we were in small groups telling about ourselves, I could say, “All you need to know about me is that I’m a second soprano and I’m happy to be here.”
I also underestimated the emotional release singing in a group provides. My heart soars when we let loose on an upbeat tune, and I’m moved to tears by our take on a tragic Spanish love song.
Caregivers are always told they must take care of themselves, or they will lack the energy and ability to care for anyone else. Joining the choir hasn’t solved all my problems by any means, but it has injected some weekly joy, and bolstered my strength to cope with the vicissitudes of my life.
If you’re a caregiver in any capacity (and who isn’t?), consider this permission to do something that gives voice to the full range of your emotions and feeds your soul.