Joy is in the ears that hear

Each year, there is a unique gathering of people. In a sleepy suburb with long driveways, at a certain time of day on a certain day of the year, if you look closely, you will notice an increase in cars parked along the side of a certain road. The owners of these cars all seem to be headed towards just one of those long driveways, curiously laden with chairs, coolers, tables, umbrellas and, every now and again, a grill.

Rich, Nick and I have been blessed to be amongst those whose car is parked and whose hands are laden. And when you get to the backyard of that certain house, magic occurs. Music fills the air for hours on end and there is such a celebration of life that it fills your soul and blesses your spirit.

I’ve always felt there is something special in the harmonics of music. That moment when you are in a chorus, singing out, or in a band, or orchestra, playing your instrument and the air simply buzzes with the shared frequency of the music. It’s like nothing else, you feel it in your core. When a chord progression is so unexpected and yet so beautiful, it can bring tears. The emotion of music. The feeling. We’ve seen its power.

There is a wonderful documentary on the effects of music on those with dementia called “Alive Inside.” The trailer alone can make you feel the joy that music brings to these patients. My father’s Alzheimer’s took him to a different place in time than the rest of us. Regardless of where he was in his space/time continuum, Nat King Cole or Glen Miller could always grab his attention. If he was anxious or restless, their music would always settle him down. Gone would be the demands to go home to that “other house,” instead, he would sit contentedly and tap his fingers to the beat and sing along.Certainly does “Musick hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” Its effects are so deep and elemental that dementia can’t hide it away. The memory of those times with Dad run deep. Our daughter Emily, as she drives the kids back and forth to their activities, will play that same music and brings those days with her PopPop back.

Our son Nick spent a good part of his toddler-hood in silence. When his vocabulary dwindled, one word was always to remain… “music.” And at one of his IEP meetings with the school district where we mapped out our plan for him for the year, his therapist said “We recommend additional sessions of music therapy and dance music therapy.” When asked the reason she replied “Because he loves it so.” This spoke to us, not only because of the sensitivity of the therapists who worked with him, recognizing the response he had to music, but to the power that music had to reach a child who did not make eye contact, did not cry out loud, did not laugh out loud. But put on the CD of “A Child’s Celebrations of Song” and Nick would be sitting rapt, in front of the speakers. In his own way of speaking, he would call out his names for the songs as he heard them. “OH! ‘DucklinDucklin’! Is ‘DucklinDucklin’!” Oh the delight! Eyes wide, face brimming with excitement. And as Hans Christian Anderson, whose biographical movie spawned that “Ugly Duckling” song once said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” It has that power.

Lately… and once again… we are in the dark grey days of prednisone withdrawal. That dysfunctional adrenal land where there is no energy, no appetite and the days have a monotonous sense of everlasting sameness. Drab, dull, dense. We had thought we’d be in a different place of recovery by now. Instead, it seems to be a continuing loop of prednisone withdrawal. As always, Rich’s patience for this phase of treatment and his strength of will is inspiring. We continue to look forward the end of the tunnel but some days that tunnel seems just so long! To counter these effects we map out plans: theater tickets, upcoming weddings, gatherings. Things to look forward to. Richard and Noelle’s new baby in December to welcome. Life is good! Some plans may have to change, but sometimes it’s the planning that holds our excitement.

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In the midst of these dim days, it was, therefore, an especially wonderful moment when we sat in our chairs in that yard on that road on that day surrounded by that music. Rich leaned back in his chair, pained neuropathic legs raised to keep the swelling down, eyes closed but with a look of peace that had not been there for a while. The absolute power of music made physical. He lay there and let the sounds, the harmonies, the frequencies of our friends’ voices flow around and through him. It was a magical moment when the confluence of memory, fellowship and sound all merged into one. Alive Inside.

Each year in that yard, t-shirts are sold to raise money for breast cancer research. This years’ t-shirt says “The Ends Justifies the Meades”… Thanks to Greg and Kathy for once again hosting Meadestock, where magic is made. And thanks to all the Meades for your continuing love and friendship. No justification needed. Priceless.

Footnote (non-neuropathic): Joy is in the ears that hear…the title of this post kept on popping into my head. Where it is from and how we came to find it is unrelated to this particular story in some ways, but in others, so right. Rich and I were on our honeymoon, coming back from California on Amtrak when the train stopped for a while in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. I got out to stretch my legs in this magnificent station and wandered, as is my wont, towards a shelf of books in a corner store. All the selections were of the “I’m OK, you’re not right in the head” kind of books. Except for one… a SF/Fantasy book. Our shelves at home have a place for Tolkien but for the most part, we go for the more science based fiction within the genre. The Dune books straddle that very fine line, the Myth series made us chuckle for a book or two, but for the most part, dragons didn’t fall into our norm. Give us some Arthur C. Clarke or Ray Bradbury any day. I’ll hitchhike any part of the galaxy. Once I picked up the Shannara series of books by Terry Brooks only because the cover art was by the Brothers Hildebrandt… and I love their Tolkien calendar art… but was wildly disappointed. If Mr. Brooks could have stolen more of the plotlines of the Lord of the Rings, he would have had to have called is hero a hobbit. But I digress. Here I was with a dilemma as I searched for some reading material and the only thing available of interest was yet another probable rip-off of Middle Earth. The cover even hinted of a bit of the Brothers’ artistic style. I vowed that I would demand a refund from Del Rey books if this turned out to be. Maybe even send the Messers. Hildebrandt a sternly worded note regarding their business choices. Little did I know purchasing that book, “Lord Foul’s Bane,” would start us on a captivating series that spanned thirty-six years of its writing.

Saltheart Foamfollower, one of the Seareach Giants, the Unhomed, is a character that makes us smile, regardless of where in the story we are. His words, the full quote, seem so apt for the journey that we’ve been on… “Joy is in the ears that hear, not in the mouth that speaks. The wold has few stories glad in themselves, and we must have gay ears to defy Despite.” Once again, we’re reminded that it is how we approach what life brings us that makes all the difference.

The universe is trying to tell us something!

The Best Medicine Ever

As our kids were growing up, on the weekends we’d all climb into our big bed and lay in a mish mosh, watching movies on TV when the nights were as long as the days. As Rich and I sat, sometimes watching our kids instead of whatever was on the television, we would know… in this bed were the people we cared most about in the whole world. There was a feeling of peace that would flow over us. A contentment for the richness of our lives. Often as we traveled the country, it was the same even as our family grew… here we are together, experiencing this moment, threads binding us tighter together even as our love expanded to include our new members, new memories.

Despite the medical events of this past year… and it is a year since we first started this latest journey… we’ve been blessed. We have not only crossed the wide and rocky sea of this cancer treatment, but more importantly, we’ve been honored to be on hand to welcome the newest baby of our daughter and son-in-law, the graduation of our youngest son, and the wedding of our older son to his bride. What an amazing year it has been! Our family has grown in so many ways and it has been an incredible year of celebrations. Some celebrations we have had to view from afar, but always our hearts have been with our family.

There is a Chinese proverb, “God gave burdens; he also gave shoulders.” These past few weeks as it has been for this year, our shoulders have been lightened by our family. Richard and Emily have come down from Rochester at various times to be with Rich at home while I go back to my office. They bring some more life into the day to day routine. Our grandkids run about. Meals are cooked, shopping is done; lifting the daily burdens from Nick, Rich and I. It’s a respite that is sorely needed. Our gratitude is not only to them, but their spouses who have given us this precious gift of time. With all of our children, we’ve been blessed.

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In the time since Rich’s last discharge from the hospital, we’ve seen such wonderful progress in his recuperation. His breathing sounds clear and that his lungs are clear has been confirmed by the pulmonary doctor’s slew of tests. Slowly but surely, medications are being adjusted to smaller doses. We look forward in a number of weeks to saying goodbye to prednisone!

We have a physical therapist coming to the house twice a week. Gone is the use of the walker. Now a cane lends support but the PT sees improvement in the strength in Rich’s hips and legs as he completes his daily exercises as prescribed. The damage to his lungs, as well as his muscles, is slowly healing. With someone spotting him, he can now go up a full flight of stairs. Once more, we sleep in our own room on the second floor… we rejoice!

Though the house is now quiet,how wonderful to sleep in that bed that once held our whole family on those cold winter nights! How wonderful to have had these moments these last few weeks where kids and grandkids were all together with us, snug despite the arctic cold outside, watching movies and sharing laughter and, yes, some burdens as well.

Surely, that has been the best medicine, ever.

Blessed.