Joy and Sorrow in the Afternoon

IMG_0060I know! I know! I create suffering by my expectations. Still, I always expect the best.

I’ve written before about my lifelong BFF. You can read about her here. I love this woman. In spite of her dementia, she is always thrilled to see me. Two weeks ago we had a wonderful time when I picked her up on a sunny day.

Having watched an insightful documentary called “Alive Inside” I have been pumped about providing a soundtrack for my friend’s life. I sat with her one day not long ago, humming songs from the era of her youth.  I was gratified to see that she could remember words and sing along with me. I determined to create a musical record of her youth.

On my next visit I still hadn’t completed my research so I played the music that I knew she loved. After all, she was the one who introduced me to the opera when I was in my twenties. Together we have enjoyed Carmen and La Boheme in Portland, Oregon, La Traviata in Madrid, Spain and Florence, Italy,  and Il Trovatore in New York City. She and I have hummed arias while wandering streets all over the world  .

So away we went. And as we drove around in the sunshine she began waving her hands with the beat, conducting the familiar music. I drove to a wide spot with view that I knew she would enjoy and pulled to the side of the road. With Pavarotti and an amazing soprano  blaring from the car radio, we stood by a fence overlooking the valley, listening. She lifted her smiling face to the sun and soon we were dancing together to the music.

When she tired I put her back in the car and she sat totally immersed in the bliss of Verdi. At one point she turned to me and whispered, “I see it, I see it,” and I knew that she was transported to another place and time.

I can’t tell you how many times I have watched the videos * I took of her that day – feeling her joy and anticipating what I could do with her the next time. I began studying songs of the late forties and assembled playlists to try out on her, knowing that I could amend them according to what touched her and what did not.

Yesterday, when I picked her up for an outing to a gallery opening, I was surprised by her deterioration. She was confused and disoriented. She expressed a little uncertainty when I brought the car around for her and was weak and scarcely able to stand on her own.

Last fall when we had visited this same gallery, she had been captivated by the paintings. This time she had difficulty connecting. And though I played the new music as we drove to the exhibit and back, and it stirred her again, she was subdued and intermittently troubled.

How can this be? Am I really losing my friend? ls there no way to bring her back to me? Even in short snatches of time?

Although I know the truth of it and always have…I am still stunned by the suddenness of the setback. I am blown away by my failure to create another good memory with her.

“Well, duh,” you say.

And you are right.

But I’m like a spoiled child. I WANT every visit to be magical. I want SOMETHING to make a difference. I know I can’t cure her and still I want the gratification of  breakthrough experiences.

If I had written this post two weeks ago when I began my lyrical piece on our music moment, I would have been on the high of joy in the afternoon. Today I must tell of the true journey that includes some heartbreaking lows. I must truthfully represent the gut-wrenching sorrow of loss as I witness the decline of my oldest and dearest friend.

I trust that there will be more moments of greatness when I hold her face in my hands and we look at each other with love. After all, I am an optimist.


*You can watch the video by clicking the link.


  1. I am so sorry. First that you/we are losing another person who knows your history from the ground up. Second, that alzheimers doesn’t allow us a progression. I know you want the music to make it all go away, and I also know that the music does just that for moments. What a gift you offer her!


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