We Sing to Bring Us Together: The Power of Musical Community

Last night, after our gig at Dillon’s Local in Plymouth, I sat at the bar with a few friends—friends we’ve made just by sharing our music on Monday nights. (Music, kind mother, patron saint of community, blessed is the fruit of thy womb.)

One friend spoke of her loneliness. She is warm, loving, hilarious—but recently single, not by choice, and she is not old (what is old?) and she is retired, mostly. She still works, but she feels alone, and she worries what life will be like if something happens to her. Who will take care of her? Where will she live?

As we were talking, another woman from the bar joined us. Out of the blue, she asked me if I know anything about long-term care insurance. She’s been exploring options, and the long-term care insurance plans she’s been researching require $75,000 down and $2,500 a month. Um…?

I look around the bar at the friends we have made. So many of our regulars are single, older people who find community around the Irish music we are blessed to share. Many have come with their spouses or significant others. Some have come to meet friends; others, to celebrate their birthday. All last night. Music brings us together. And we need it. We can thrive when we are not alone.

I think of my father, who, while he was dying was living in a half decent public senior housing establishment, paying a rent of 1/3 of his social security, and pinching every penny to get by. He survived independently, but only thanks to the aid of Old Colony Elder Services, who provided Meals on Wheels for him for three meals a day, laundry and cleaning service, and Medicare that provided rides to doctors when the family couldn’t. There were a LOT of mice in that place. But it seemed clean.

I thought of my brother, who had been indigent, and who spent his last month in a dirty public rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility where the paint was peeling off the walls and the nurses smelled of cigarettes. His legs didn’t work anymore, and neither did his mind, but those chain-smoking nurse’s aides were his people. They were so good to him. They wheeled him out for smokes, and he was happy.

I thought of my other brother, who right now is staying at a skilled nursing facility after his third stroke. They accept MassHealth, and he gets three kinds of therapy almost every day. It’s not too bad, really, and he’s getting better. His fellow residents were not executives in their former lives, but his roommate is very nice, though the food stinks. It’s clean and it seems ok. Insurance will cover it all. If he had to stay there forever, there’s not a lot to do other than stare at the walls. When he gets out, his daughter will have him move in with her. (She is amazing.)

And I thought of my sister, who always planned for the future and is living in the finest memory care facility in town, with its perfectly appointed rooms, its full days of activities and guest entertainers, clean-cut CNA staff, and its own bus to take its residents on outings twice a week. One lovely man there just passed away; he had been a college president, but he spent his last days there petting a stuffed dog for comfort. Oh, it’s very nice there. She can afford to stay there for the rest of her life. She dun good.

She’s rare. The Boston Globe today reports that Massachusettsis the worst for seniors living alone. “Massachusetts tops all states in the share of single people over 65 whose income doesn’t cover living expenses such as food, housing, health care, and transportation. More than 6 in 10 here fall short, according to the elder economic security standard index released Tuesday by the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston.” And it gets worse.

The article tells of one woman, 92, who lives in an apartment and depends on Social Security to cover her expenses. “My rent just went up, and I had dental work,” she said. “Thank God I have people from my church who help me out, or I wouldn’t be able to afford everything.”

The church! Thank God she has her people. And at Dillon’s on Mondays, thank God we have our people. We don’t necessarily talk about what we’re worried about, but we come together and sing songs we know. In other moments, probably many of us worry about the same things. But on Mondays, we like being together, making music, singing, clapping, chatting. It's good. 

My friend, who lives alone, texted after the gig. “Why don’t I get out more?”

I don’t know. I think that’s a spiritual question. Let’s rephrase that question:  “Why should I get out more?” 

Because we all need our people. And that is one thing that Music is here to show us.