I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the orthopedic wing of a New York City hospital. I volunteered, with an organization called Sing for Hope, to spend about 2 hours going from hospital room to hospital room, serenading patients. Two other girls volunteered as well, and we took turns choosing a song to sing to an audience of one.
We were told that the average age for the orthopedic wing was about 65 or older…my specialty as it happens, from years of playing for retirement communities and nursing homes. I brought my guitar so I wouldn’t have to drag a keyboard around and found that most patients were extremely pleased with the impromptu concert. Some clapped along, some dozed off, but most simply smiled with sincere appreciation and delight. I prepared titles such as “Pennies from Heaven,” “Tennessee Waltz,” and “Walkin After Midnight.” But I saved the best song until I found that one person who would appreciate and love it the most. And soon I found her.
She was an older, frail woman who lay in her reclining hospital bed with her adult daughter by her side. She was awake, but her head rested firmly against her pillow and her eyes remained tightly shut, as she dealt with the intense pain coursing through her body. But what struck me most when I stepped through the doorway, was her concerned daughter, who did not take her eyes off her mother for even a moment.
“She’s going to play a song for you now, mom,” the daughter whispered gently without glancing up at me.
She sat with one hand tenderly holding her mother’s, while the other stroked the gray, fine hair that fell around the woman’s wrinkled face. She never took her eyes away, even though her mother did not return her gaze. The scene struck me so poignantly and unexpectedly, that I had to swallow the lump I felt rising in my throat.
I began to strum softly, then sang,
“Gonna take a sentimental journey. Gonna set my heart at ease. Gonna take a sentimental journey to renew old memories.”
I watched the daughter, barely even listening to myself. Her eyes remained locked on her mother, adoringly, in empathy, and with fervent care. I had no idea what this woman’s prognosis was, but I had the dark feeling that it was not good. Suddenly, I felt my voice begin to crack and had to shut my own eyes to escape the intense emotion in the room as I sang the bridge,
“Heaven. I’ll be waiting up for Heaven.”
I finished the song and stood up to leave. I wondered what I would say, Feel better? Have a good night? It seemed so shallow. But before I opened my mouth, the daughter broke eye contact with her mother for the first time since I was there. She wiped a tear from her cheek.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You’re welcome.” And I left.