My hands fumble on the keys of the piano, stumbling out a few notes in attempts to learn a new song, one I have not played before. My right hand picks out the notes of the melody, trying to play out the irregular beats of the notes. She is sitting on the couch beside me, looking out the window, listening. As a few notes tumble onto the keyboard, mom looks up at me and asks, “Is that La Paloma?”
I stare at her in disbelief. I had only played a few notes of the song, and not played them very well, and she knew exactly which song it was! She began to sing the melody, so I tried to follow along, playing out the melody to accompany her soft singing. As she sang, the melody became more familiar, and I was able to recall the old Spanish folk song that I had heard somewhere, in a movie perhaps, and together, in her crackly rich voice and my broken chords that she coaches with, “Come on, come on!”, we perform a lovely rendition of the old classic, newly discovered, La Paloma……
After a week of many forgotten things, her own 91st birthday, my sister’s birthday, my daughter’s birthday, this recollection of an entire song is astounding. Days before, we had multiple celebrations of her birthday, and each time, she would say, “Oh, is it my birthday?” Even minutes before, she was asking my son if she could return to the Philippines to take care of her mother, that she was concerned about who was there for her, and that she wanted to be the one to go home and care for her. My son didn’t have the heart to tell her she was already gone, and has been for the past 45 years. He just left it alone, let her be in her reality.
More and more these days, that is what we have to do, just let her be in her world. Her world is present, in the moment. And some days I think, she has much to teach me. For in her world of Alzheimer’s there are no worries, only present moments of love and gratefulness. She is always seeking a hug, and always thanking God that she is still alive at 91 years old. Sometimes the tension between her world and mine is too much, as I worry and fret about what’s next, or the next problem in front of me or the kids or the…………..the list goes on and on.
But here, in this moment, we carry out together the tune of the old folk song, La Paloma, “the dove”. A song that in the 1800’s became a classic folk song in Spain, Mexico, the Philippines, mom’s home country. As I read over the background of this song, I see this: “Over time the soul of the song is able to express the tension between separation with loneliness, even death, and love.”
This separation, the one that slowly grieves me over time as mom gradually fades farther and farther away, is bridged for a glorious moment in a song played out for the first time to the gentle urgings of her voice. The tension is released for a moment, the tension that builds over time from the burden of caregiving.
And I remember the other meaning of “La Paloma, the Dove”
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27
After a week of searching of what I could give to her, she gives this back to me. A message through a song etched deep in the recesses of her memory. A gift of love. A gift of peace.