- Larry Benitez
"Today is a day to reflect on how we can contribute to a better tomorrow." That's how his poetry started, what followed would profoundly affect me.
The man pictured here is dealing with dementia. He also happens to be a published poet. On the first day I performed at the Old Friends Club that he belongs to, he did not sit in the semi-circle with the other members during the sing-along. Instead, he chose to sit by himself at a table in the back of the room. While he was not seated with the group, I could see he was listening and could occasionally see his lips move. He would applaud after each song was over and sat quietly for the most part. At some point during my hour-long sing-along, he stood up and walked over to a large double-sided whiteboard. While I sang, he stood, obscured by the board and was obviously writing something. After some time, he emerged from behind the white-board and sat back down at his table, away from the sing-along activity, but continued to participate in his own way, with his acknowledging applause.
Old Friends Club is a non-profit organization that provides a daytime care option for family caregivers taking care of loved ones with cognitive challenges at home. The social and community focused atmosphere promotes friendship and fun through group activities while providing peace of mind to caregivers, giving some time back in their day, and allowing them to re-energize themselves with respite. Old Friends Club welcomes volunteers to share their time and talents to play games, do art projects, play music, sing songs, or tell jokes, among other things. Today, the members sang, clapped, and danced to the songs I played.
After the sing-along session was over, the club's program director came up to me to tell me that the gentlemen in the back of the room wrote a message for me and wanted me to read it before I left. I gathered my equipment and walked to the board where the program director rotated the large whiteboard around, so I could see the other side. Here is what I read:
"Today is a day to reflect on how we can contribute to a better tomorrow. Help a neighbor, help a neighborhood, become a leader in your community and share your expertise in an effort to strengthen the future for others, and the entire community!! Thursday the 27th…. There is still time!! "
The date was actually Thursday June 28th, 2018 but I wasn't going to correct it. While he had not joined the sing-along circle that day, the activity itself and the potential positive impact it can have, was not lost on this man. He chose to write down an expression of what he characterized as someone, me, sharing one’s expertise (singing, playing music) to strengthen others and the community, as a leader, helping a neighbor or neighborhood. I was touched and honored by words.
I told him that what he wrote was beautiful and I thanked him for taking the time to write it. He asked me if I liked it, and I told him that I did, that I liked it a lot. He thanked me for sharing my thoughts on his words and said that it was kind of me to read it and share my feedback. Then he told me that he enjoyed my music and hoped to see me play again sometime. In my mind, I thought, how could I possibly refuse this kind and gentle man. Of course, I would return.
The sing-along itself was fun for me and the members. It gave me the opportunity to play my banjo and sing bluegrass songs with them, but there was more going on than just singing songs. Connections were being made, people were interacting with the music, engaging in memories, stories, and even dancing. My desire to volunteer my time and donate to Old Friends Club when I can is knowing there is limited time in providing this kind of social engagement with folks in their predicament which also provides their families much needed and deserved respite. There is no cure for Alzheimer's/dementia and the symptoms only get worse over time. Someday, the people I sing with, will need higher levels of care beyond daytime activities and will likely need long-term care. The time to engage is finite.
He wrote, "Today is a day to reflect on how we can contribute to a better tomorrow." and "There is still time!!". When I host a sing-along with the Old Friend Club members, I sing with them for "today" because soon, their "tomorrow" may be lost forever.
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