My kids love music, they all do and they all have from a very young age. We frequently blast out our favourite songs and all dance and sing loudly around the kitchen whilst we’re setting the table, or I’m preparing Sunday lunch, or we’re tidying up after tea. Of course, they love the music we love, as that is what they hear regularly. Archie’s favourites include ‘Mr Brightside’ (The Killers), ‘Because the Night’ (the Boss / Patti Smith) and James Bay’s ‘Let it Go’. Martha loves all these too but will dance around to anything by Abba, as well as the other well known ‘Let It Go’. Mabel keeps asking for James Bay’s ‘Hold Back The River’ and sings along quietly to it whenever it comes on. It is one of the few moments in my day when my youngest is cute and lovely.
She asked for it this morning (demanded actually) and I then watched my two girls dancing round my bedroom this morning to ‘Hold Back The River’, frequently getting the words wrong, but giggling and laughing, spinning and twirling in their nighties, confident and fearless in their performances. These are special moments and ones I know are repeated in most other households up and down the country as young children and adults alike lose themselves in a song. It is like magic, how you can be transported somewhere else so easily and I saw it happen to my two daughters this morning.
I think back to how music has influenced me and been a constant companion throughout my life so far. My earliest memories of music are from our first family holidays to France; long, tedious car journeys with a pillow each to rest our heads on, a plastic bag for when I was car sick (every journey until I was around 10!), the occasional sweet to reward our good behaviour and Mum and Dad’s cassettes being played on repeat. Chris De Burgh, Alison Moyet, Fleetwood Mac…..My sister can’t listen to Lady In Red anymore is it makes her feel sick – remembering those long hot hours, being stuck in a car with me vomiting next to her. I remember my mum singing along to most of the songs, turning it up when it was a particular favourite, smiling, laughing, enjoying the escapism of it all. I can’t hear any Alison Moyet song now without being instantly transported to the back seat of that black Renault estate with the hot, black leather seats that burnt your legs when you tried to get in. “Drive Dad! Just Go!” we’d plead with him as we wound down the windows to try and get some air in the car, to try and stop the stifling hot air (that had festered and cooked as the car sat stationary) burning our lungs. Fun times. Good memories.
Music and specific songs help you through life I think. You hear in the lyrics the messages you need to hear at those difficult, painful or joyous moments. When your heart is broken, when your school friend is mean, when you’re a teenager and you think that that really is as tough and hard as life could ever possibly be. My oldest friend Ailsa and I would find salvation and answers to all of our teenage heartbreak in the mix tapes we used to create – songs that felt like they were written just for us and our terrible, tough, unfair (privileged, safe and blessed) lives. Pat Benetar, Roxette, Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, Jennifer Rush, Wilson Phillips……songs about pain and love, anger and angst, breaking up and making up. We would sit in Ailsa’s bedroom on those endless summer days, moaning about boys and parents, sisters (she had a terrible relation with hers at that time), and friends. Life was so sweet but we had no idea – you don’t though in the moment do you? You only really appreciate something when you look back at it, a lot of the time we take the present for granted and everything we have in the present. We assume it will always be there and only when things change do we look back and long for what once was ours. I have heard it said that youth is wasted on the young, and I do agree. It is. But, I also think the present is wasted too, on all of us. The here and now is so easy to brush off – to instead wish for tomorrow, plan ahead, look forward to days that might never arrive, or to look back and yearn for the people and places we once called home. Our todays are too easily forgotten and dismissed as unimportant on the promise that our tomorrows will be better.
I have read that people with dementia sometimes enjoy listening to music as it can have a calming effect upon them. Particularly if the music is from their era, or it holds some relevance to them. I remember when Mum was in the local cottage hospital for 10 days last September and on most visits she was unsettled or confused. I took the children with me on some of my visits and on one occasion I dug out the radio my dad had taken up for her, but which she kept packing away, or hiding or turning off then forgetting how to turn back on. I turned it on quietly and some old rock ‘n’roll music from the 60’s was playing. Martha and Archie, bored at this point and getting a bit restless started being silly and pretending to dance. My mum got up from her bed and told them she would teach them how to dance “properly”, at which point Martha jumped in front of her, “Me first! Me first, Granny!” I will never forget the way my mum transformed from an elderly, frightened, agitated woman to a young sprightly dancer in the blink of an eye. She twirled Martha around, counting out the steps to help her try and coordinate her feet, Martha’s feet going in all the wrong directions, but Mum holding her tight and directing her calmly and lovingly. Martha giggled and laughed raucously throughout and loved every second of it. I have this moment captured on video and it makes me both smile and cry when I have the courage to look at it.Will Martha remember that wonderful moment when she is grown up? Will hearing some 1960’s rock’n’roll trigger a memory for her? I hope so.
My mum is hiding in every piece of music I listen to just now. I sing in a band – there are 5 of us all together, me and 4 lovely guys. They are all very talented and we are able to knock out some great music most of the time. Sometimes we have Everybody Hurts by REM on our set list and I struggle to get through this song now without my voice cracking and my whole body shaking with emotion. It’s the words you see, they mean more to me now than they did pre-dementia. There was a song out last year too which I played on repeat whenever I was on my own – ‘I Wasn’t Expecting That’ by Jamie Lawson – I would enjoy wallowing in the sorrow and grief of it, hearing my parents’ story being played out in those lyrics:
If you’d not took a chance
On a little romance
When I wasn’t expecting that
Time doesn’t take long
Three kids up and gone
I wasn’t expecting that
Don’t watch the video though if you’re feeling teary, it has me in floods each time I watch it – and I am not crying for the lady or the couple in the video, and neither will you be. We cry because of what the video, the music and the lyrics conjure inside us, what they make us remember. I cry for my mum. I cry for my dad. I cry for my children and what they have lost. I cry for my sister and how she needed her mum so much last year when she’d just had baby Annie. I cry for my brother and his hidden tears. I cry for me.
As the girls finished their dance this morning, another James Bay song came on straight after. It’s called Scars, I have heard it before, but I hadn’t really listened to the words.
Your hands are cold,
Your lips are turning blue, you’re shaking
This fragile heart,
So heavy in my chest, it’s breaking….
We live through scars this time
But I’ve made up my mind
We can’t leave us behind anymore
We’ll have to hurt for now
But next time there’s no doubt
‘Cause I can’t go without you anymore
The words are not about a mother, or an illness or dementia, of course I know that. They are not about a daughter struggling to come to terms with the hand that has been dealt, nor are they about the pain; this bloody awful, scary, dark, bottomless, hopeless agonising pain of this bastard disease. However, when I listen to the words and I sing along through my tears, they are of course for me, they are of course my words, like any other song listened to at any other time by any of us – the words mean whatever we want them to mean, whatever we need them to mean. That is the magic of music.