The happy wanderer


Mom emailed last night to say that Dad said fewer than a dozen words all day. Once again, he ate nothing and slept quite a bit, and spent his waking moments seeing and hearing things the rest of us can't.

Last night Dan and I called her just to check in, and she was still at the hospice center. So I asked her to put us on speaker so that Dad could hear us, and we sang to him.

A little background: My grandma (Mom's mom) died of Alzheimer's in 2008. In her final years, during family get-togethers, I noticed she wasn't interacting much with people--so I would wheel her into a corner and hang out with her, singing songs. Even when she no longer knew my name, she could sing along with me: "Down by the Old Mill Stream," "Bicycle Built for Two," all the old favorites she and Grandpa taught me.

I think I read somewhere that music uses a different part of our brain than language, which is why people who can no longer talk or remember what they had for breakfast can sing songs they learned decades before. So I thought I'd see if that helped Dad.

We sang "The Happy Wanderer," "The Eerie Canal," and "The Red River Valley." I have vivid memories of tramping along the trail in front of Dad as he taught me those songs on our backpacking trips in the Wind River Mountains. We also sang "Down by the Old Mill Stream," which Teagan joined in on (especially the silly parts: "Not burlap but gingham too!") because we used to sing it to her when she was little, to keep her occupied in the car.

These didn't bring about quite the reaction from Dad they used to from my grandma, but Mom said he definitely seemed to perk up and listen, especially during "The Happy Wanderer." I like to think that he truly heard the last verse:

Oh, may I go a-wandering Until the day I die! Oh, may I always laugh and sing, Beneath God's clear blue sky!


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