Brighthome is a nursing home in a town near here that has the architectural demeanor of a government building that recalls the old descriptor, “Built like a brick shithouse.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing when one needs a durable shithouse but when I pulled in the parking lot the first time to visit a patient, I was sure that the odors wafting about in the place would match its looks. It didn’t and when I got in the halls, I discovered that most of the residents seemed happy. When I got a referral to see a patient there just last Friday, I was sort of looking forward to it.
Anne Jean is a fifty-something woman who is pitifully thin with limbs that are drawn to her body and a wide-eyed look about her that looks like she’s scared most of the time. I knew from the referral that she is “non-verbal” so I sat down beside her in the day room with the expectation that everything I did with her would be based on her non-verbal and para-verbal responses to my presence and interaction. When I spoke to her she leaned away from me and looked at the floor and away in a way that said she was afraid. So, as I introduced myself, I softened my presence and assured her that I wouldn’t hurt her.
In the chair on the other side of Anne was a young man who was watching TV and my interaction with Anne. He was dying to join in and be a part of what Anne and I were doing but controlled himself until I started singing “Jesus Loves” me to Anne. He couldn’t contain himself and started singing with us just a shade too loudly but with all the gusto of one who was utterly unaware of the effects of his own zest.
Anne Jean responded with sounds – I can’t describe them anymore than that but they were just that. I wish I could say that she was singing but I wasn't sure that’s what it was. Later, when I met her daughter, she said that she was singing with us. I was glad. I used to see a woman up here in town that responded to me by playing patty-cake when I sang to her. Sometimes I’d get a chair and sit opposite her and play with her.
Don’t get the idea that my singing is anything special. One woman I saw in the same facility threw me out of her room. After singing something like ‘Jesus Loves Me” I asked her how was it? She screwed her face up in a horrible grimace and said in a high, penetrating voice, “It just makes me sick. Get out. Get out.” She emphasized, “sick” by drawing the word out as if it were spelled “ssseeack with her lips pulled back to her ears and her nose wrinkled as if I’d offered her road kill to eat. My critics have not always been that harsh but I get the point and only sing when I’m fairly sure that a patient’s condition will not be exacerbated with my music or that I’ll be struck by some flying object.