Not long ago, my eighty-seven-year-old friend Mary and I shared a piano bench at her assisted-living center. I opened a hymnal and began playing some of her favorite hymns. It didn’t matter that the piano had not been tuned in years or that I could reach down and pick up the unattached pedals in my hand. We laughed out loud and went right on singing.
Even though Mary is nearly blind, she sang with great confidence, taking the melody line while I sang harmony. We spent an hour having an old-fashioned hymn sing, just the two of us.
I first got to know Mary at the retirement community where she and my parents had been neighbors. Back then she always wore an oversized visor and counted her steps to compensate for her diminishing vision caused by macular degeneration. She had never learned how to read music, but she could bang out gospel tunes on the piano for the ecumenical Sunday school class held at the center. But a series of health complications weakened Mary, and she moved to another facility to receive additional care. Now she spends most of her time sitting in a recliner, surrounded by family photos that she can no longer see.
On the afternoon of our sing-along, Mary hummed when lyrics suddenly escaped her and grinned all the while. For those of us who, like Mary, grew up in Sunday school and church, singing familiar hymns reconnects us to our faith and revives positive memories. By the time we got to the chorus of “Shall We Gather at the River,” Mary was tapping her fingers and moving her feet while I did my best to keep up on the rickety piano.
On the drive home I thought about Mary and God’s purpose for her in these late years. In some ways it seems there is little she can offer. She is frail. She can’t see. She can’t remember things like she once did. But somehow I knew that our hymn singing was more than recalling days gone by. We were glorifying the One who ordained her long life. We were praising God in the here and now.
And so Mary sings despite the walker she needs to get around, despite her blindness. Despite dependence on caregivers for basic needs, Mary still sings her faith. That’s when something wonderful happens. There is joy! The sweetest sound of all.This article is an excerpt from pages 54-56 of Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults by Missy Buchanan. Copyright © 2011 by Missy Buchanan. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books. Missy Buchanan is an older adult advocate and the author of several books, including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body; My Story, My Song; Talking with God in Old Age; and Joy Boosters: 120 Ways to Encourage Older Adults. For more information about Missy, click here.