By Barb Arland-Fye
Contemplating what to give our parish music director for Christmas, our choir discovered Cheryl Brogla-Krupke wanted nothing more than to have us sing at a local nursing home. Guitar-playing Mary Anna Parris, who loves to organize songfests, arranged a memorable New Year’s Eve afternoon of singing and gift-giving to residents that seemed to leave everyone feeling uplifted.
As we sang “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snow Man” and other memory-evoking tunes, we distributed handmade hats containing small toiletries, bags of popcorn or other treats to each resident gathered in the dining room or in their bedroom. Choir member Cheryl Costello spent hours making hats as did Sister Ana Maria Orozco, a Sister of Humility in Davenport, who had no idea I would share some of her colorful hats with residents of Riverview Manor in Pleasant Valley. Thank you, Sister!
Some of the residents placed the hats on their heads as we sang. Most of the Christmas songs were non-religious, but I sensed God’s presence and the sacredness of this moment. Residents sang along with us, and the heartfelt look on their faces was their gift to us. “Betty,” a tall, slender senior, added exuberance to the event as she danced while holding on to a walker. A staffer accompanied her to be sure she didn’t fall. Betty’s spontaneous display of joy eased my own anxiousness about the possibility of living in a nursing home someday. I suppose it’s a fear of losing autonomy, of resisting the need to be helped. But John’s Gospel shares a story about the washing of the disciples’ feet, which speaks to a willingness to be served as well as to serve others.
Just before we began singing, I recognized a woman named Kris in the audience whom I’ve kept in my prayers for the past 12 years. I first met her during a visit to Riverview Manor with my son Patrick, who was 5 at the time.
After our choir finished singing, I re-introduced myself to Kris. She told me she is doing well; I sensed that from observing her interaction with others around her table and from the look of contentment on her face.
A few residents didn’t join us in the dining room for singing, and we respected their desire for privacy as we strolled through the halls, dropping off stuffed hats in individuals’ rooms. Aging is exhausting work for people and I hope to appreciate the nobleness that goes with that process.
At the conclusion of our songfest, a visitor at Riverview Manor snapped a photo of our choir. Betty, the lively lady, was seated at a table in front of our group. She asked me afterward if she could get a copy of one of the photos. I promised she’d get a photo.
Betty grasped my hand and said, “I sure hope we’ll get to meet again some day.” I can still feel her warmth in my own hands.