One by one, Rev. Sharon Pearce helps residents from the long-term care neighbourhoods of The Village of Wentworth Heights into the chapel off Main Street. It’s the weekly hymn-sing in the village, a time when people gather to enjoy the familiar comfort of song and pay homage to the blessings of life, which at times can seem clouded from view.
As usual, Harvey Lewis is there with his wife Nora, for he knows how much pleasure and comfort she finds in the soothing sounds of the music. Nora came to live in the village 18 months before and today, advanced Alzheimer’s disease has limited their communication. They’ve been married nearly 60 years and Nora no longer speaks beyond the hums that come from the music in her head.
As the small congregation continues to find seats while flipping through song books, the piano keys come to life and Harvey looks to his wife, her fingers tapping and a broad smile upon her face. She may not speak, but she certainly relates her feelings through the light in her eyes and the way she strokes her husband’s hand upon her lap.
“She has always been a very devoted, church-going person,” Harvey says, admitting that he originally wasn’t before Nora brought him into the fold. “When I started to bring her here over the past several months, I noticed she paid particular attention to those hymns and gospel tunes that she knew and she would repeat the English words that she knew, ‘How great thou art,’ and we would sing together.”
Music, it has long been understood, has an almost magic ability to tap into the recesses of a mind affected by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, sparking those living through such changes to new forms of communication. It taps into emotion, and Harvey is grateful to sit with his wife every week in the small chapel to feel it.
“I feel fortified,” Harvey says. “Now that she is away from me, I come three times a week and I show her old picture of ourselves - we’ve been married 58 years and God spare our lives, April next year will be 59.
“I find the pastor (Sharon) hits the right chords,” he continues. “The prayers that she says and the comfort that she brings to the small congregation, to me, I would give all the tea in China for that.”
He looks to Nora, who smiles, and the congregation begins to sing. Upon her lap, the couple’s hands, clasped together, tap in time to the music and together they count their blessings.