Last night was the annual barbecue at my mother’s nursing home. Though we visit regularly, I make it a point to go to these, because the alternative is the thought of my mother sitting alone and unattended in a sea of cohorts who laugh, and smile, and remember with their own families.
So each August we park a quarter mile away, then awkwardly cram into the home’s bus to be jostled up the hill and deposited in front of the enormous tent that has been erected in the parking lot.
We fetch folding chairs from a rack because we don’t bring our own, and weave through the walkers, the oxygen tubing, and the wheelchairs to find Mom, seated with two other residents and staring into that odd empty space above.
The noise prohibits conversation, but Mom doesn’t talk much now anyway. The words she wants to say hide from the tip of her tongue, and the voice that brought down houses when I was young has no strength.
She’s always enjoyed this event in the past. Always one for a gathering, she loved to watch people chat and laugh.
The music has always been the highlight of the event, themed for eras past. When the sound swells you can watch the residents come alive for a moment as they hear songs from their youth. Eyes brighten, feet tap, and for a little while they remember what it felt like to dance.
Always, my mother tried to keep time in her own rhythemless way when the music played.
This year the band was replaced by an Elvis impersonator, with a studded, red polyester jumpsuit, and scarves he handed out to the women as he crooned next to them and kissed their wrinkled cheeks.
Though he sang songs I know my mother loved, and danced to our table to drape a scarf over the shoulder of the woman across from us, my mother remained still.
She didn’t smile, she didn’t tap along. She continued staring at that odd empty space above and tried to warn me about the terrorists, and the flood, and the poison her roommate put on her cookies.
The music has left her.
On the way home I thought about music, and how it makes the soul shine. How it amplifies and recalls emotion. I thought about my own soundtrack, and how the last time I’d hear those songs, that I would never even know that it was the last time.
So I sang along with my son to a Queens of the Stone Age song he’s had on repeat for weeks. I wondered if I’d remember that moment—driving into the deep gloaming blue of the sky with him beside me, ice cream on his face, the heavy drums pounding a skipping beat that fought against my mood.
But of course I’ll remember. At least until I forget.
And then I wondered if anyone would play music for me when I am old.