The Sound of Music (Again...)
At 92, Mom’s amassed a lot of stuff holding a lot of memories, none of which she’s willing to part with. Her little apartment is filled with family photos, books, collectibles, magazines, bill receipts, plants that were, plants that will be, kitchen gadgets, coffee makers (2 to be exact) and a multitude of free “gifts” she receives daily for her many charitable offerings.
She spends much of each day “cleaning out papers” and “putting things away”; useful activities that sustain her brain. One would think she’d eventually run out of these papers, but her mail carrier delivers a refill every day. She sits on her couch and performs her sorting ritual, filling two cans with neatly folded trash.
Lately, I’ve noticed a reduction in Mom’s sorting activity where more paper is piled than purged; her deeper piles resulting in diminished floor area. Now using a walker, shrinking walkways in her home present a legitimate health hazard.
A dogged declutterer myself, I find it hard to watch what seems like hoarding behavior. No triggering tramautic event... no fear of being without... Mom clearly understands that she can’t take it with her, but for some reason, her stuff matters more than ever to her. What I’ve come to realize is that her stuff is not my problem. It’s not even my business...
On a recent, particularly insightful day, I decided to stop swimming against the tide... to be part of the solution instead of the problem. With my new found attitude, I saw that Mom’s stuff could be managed with a proper shelving unit. To my surprise, she was completely on board and ready for a change.
Thank the decorating gods for Home Goods where my husband and I found an attractive console with two shelves and three removable baskets. This one piece of furniture could hold four piles of Mom’s stuff and open up her walkway.
After a moment of surprise, Mom was giddy at the sight of the first new piece of furniture coming into her home in fifteen years. She was particularly excited about the baskets. Placement of the piece next to her couch showed it to be five inches too high.
No worries... we’ll just cut that off the bottom... said Mom. (She really loved this table)
A solution for sure, but it seemed redundant to modify a brand new piece of furniture upon its initial entry into her house. The handyman couldn’t come for a week, so we decided to set it up while waiting. Within minutes, Mom’s papers were re-piled in their new home and all three baskets were filled.
Err... what’s this silver box thing? A cassette player? Oooooohh... with a CD player?! I never knew you had this Mom.... and a box full of music CDs?!
This little gem had been hidden under a chair for years. Even Mom had forgotten about it, so it seemed like a second new item had magically appeared in the course of one hour. Mom’s excitement quickly faded when she remembered she “can’t sing anymore”. Once her greatest love, she can no longer hit the notes due to past vocal cord damage.
Once she realized exactly what the CD player was, Mom was excited to load and listen. I pulled out Disc #2 of the box-set “Romanticising the 70’s”. The first song was John Denver's rendition of Leaving on a Jet Plane.
Cueing invisible notes and conducting an imaginary band with her hands, Mom began harmonizing. Although an octave lower than her younger self, she was right.on.key. In her 40s, Mom had been a member of a female singing group called The Mother Folkers. With classics by Peter, Paul and Mary, they cut a record. Singing had been a highlight of her life, and she missed it.
When asked why she was crying, she replied, “Because I love this music and haven’t heard it in so long... It makes me happy.”
As so often happens these days, I completely understood what Mom was saying and how she was feeling. I too had gone through a musical phase in younger years; obsessed with Joni Mitchel and then singing harmony with some high school girlfriends (The Mmmm... Sisters). Like Mom, my life was completely void of music until Husband #2 brought it roaring back 19 years ago. My response – also like Mom- was tears. We share this deep emotional connection to music. Who knew?
That’s how things seem to go in my ongoing role as Mom’s caregiver; a concern about clutter turns into a meaningful session of couch karaoke... I see our similarities more than our differences... My desire to put a smile on Mom’s face outweighs my need to put her piles in place... Maybe I’m growing old. Or, maybe I’m growing up.