Remembering Marian, Part 3: The Magic of Disco
|Sisters. Marian, disco, and me. Disco does not suck. That was a lie.|
My sister Marian's Alexa has recently changed my life. It also made me recognize how good her care was for her last 18 months while she lived in memory care at Laurelwood at the Pine Hills. Every morning at 7:00 am, I am gifted with an automatic playlist of top r&b, disco, and funk songs from the 1970s. I return from my morning run and am greeted by the Pointer Sisters, the Ohio Players, Patrice Rushen, the Gap Band, Diana Ross, George Benson, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool and the Gang. They lift me up every morning as I stretch, shower, make my lunch, and dance around in the kitchen all by myself, surrounded by the very best memories of my childhood with my big sister. Some of my fondest memories are of dancing disco with her in 1977. I was 8. She was 18. This is the joy she gave me, and is giving me again, even two months after she passed.
Someone at Laurelwood programmed this playlist into her Alexa when she was struggling. She had early-onset Alzheimer's, diagnosed at 53 and lived til 61. Devastating, to all of us. But someone knew that music from the best years of her life would help as the disease took over and she began to experience intense anxiety and agitation late last fall. The playlist they cued up for her wakeup alarm says so much to me, as a musician, as a sister, and as a student of the incredible healing power of music: Someone at Laurelwood understood what my PhD-level music therapy friends at Berklee College of Music have been trying to get medicine to legitimize for decades: Music is a highly effective therapeutic tool to awaken deep memories of happiness and thus effect improved emotional well-being in people living with dementia. Someone at Laurelwood knew this. This is big.
I know Laurelwood is sparkling clean. I know the food is excellent. I know the staff are responsive, friendly, and kind. I saw that they create a busy schedule for their residents to stimulate them and improve their quality of life. I know that her laundry never got lost, her teeth were brushed, and her bodily health was watched over with great care. I saw all of this with my own eyes and through the eyes of hired private caregivers who were there to help her when I couldn't be. It was horrific having her there, especially through COVID, but we always knew she was in good hands. And here's what we didn't see til I plugged in her Alexa: When it came to finding creative ways to heal her fragmented emotions, Laurelwood knew just what to do.
Now, two months after her death, I too have fragmented emotions to reconcile. I have to heal, after eight years of grieving the painfully slow loss of the big sister who changed my diapers as a baby, dressed me as a toddler, encouraged me as a teen, and helped me update my resume and cover letters as a young professional. She also kept a watchful eye on my emotional well-being. You know who's helping me rediscover emotional well-being now? Unwittingly, the fine folks at Laurelwood—just like they did with my sister.
Even when bad things happen, there is always something to be grateful for. Me? Deeply grateful to the consummate and skilled professionals at Laurelwood.