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The Song That Sparked a Miracle

Alzheimer’s had erased me from Grandma’s memory. Or so I thought…

Credit: Dmitrii Kotin

My husband Ron hit the cheerful opening notes on the piano, and I started to sing—an original song we were performing for the 35 nursing home residents and staff gathered in the activities room. A gray-haired woman in a wheelchair stared past us, her eyes glassy and distracted. Grandma, can’t you see it’s me up here? I thought.

I’d hoped our concert would lift everyone’s spirits—mine included. Alzheimer’s had slowly erased the outgoing, energetic woman I’d known and loved. She didn’t recognize me anymore as Grandma’s little “B,” short for “bookworm,” the nickname she’d given me due to my love of reading. When I was a child, I used to curl up in her lap as she rocked back and forth in her wooden rocker and read me stories.

My favorite one had been about a young boy, determined to save his friend, Nellie, who was dying from a serious illness. After learning Nellie wouldn’t survive past the summer, the boy hatched an imaginative plan—to tie the leaves to the branches of every tree with tiny pieces of string, so that fall would never come. While he worked, he sang a song, which Grandma had reproduced in a soft, hopeful hum. In this way, she’d sparked my lifelong love of music.

Now not even my singing could get through to her. Grandma didn’t so much as nod to the melody. After Ron and I sang our last number, I walked over to her. “Did you like that?” I asked. Her face stayed blank. Not a flicker of recognition. What else could I say?

Suddenly, the words came to me, lyrics to a song I hadn’t heard in over 40 years. I sang them in a gentle falsetto, “I’m tying the leaves so they won’t come down…”

Grandma flashed a smile. “So Nellie won’t go away!” she sang, finishing the lyric from the children’s story. I was too stunned to say another word. She looked into my eyes and studied my face.

“Why, it’s you—my little B!”

It was the last time my grandmother and I shared such a moment. Thanks to a song I hadn’t planned to sing.

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