I have an amazing and loving extended family - a whole slew of first and second cousins, most were originally from Pennsylvania and now spread out all over many states. Our parents were siblings and all of that generation is gone except for my mom and dad and my Uncle Dick. This weekend we all went to PA to celebrate his 90th birthday. Uncle Dick has Alzheimer's and is in a lovely assisted living center.
On this particular day he sat quietly at a card table and did not seem to notice the din of voices around him until someone would enter his viewing range. Then he would smile and say he was glad to see you. My cousin says "he knows we belong to him ."
My Uncle Dick has always been one of the happiest, most positive people I've ever known. He raised six children and entertained us all with music - from the piano, to the trumpet, to enthusiastic singing. One of our favorite memories as children was spending New Year's Eve at our cousin's house and hearing Uncle Dick play Auld Lang Syne on the trumpet on the front porch at midnight. The neighbors would all come out to hear it.
The party was lively and noisy as all of us cousins, our families, and some of Dick's friends enjoyed conversing around him. At certain moments during the afternoon I would watch my cousins lovingly care for his needs and attend to him with such dignity and grace.
In the midst of loud conversations and laughter two voices broke through. A man was kneeling next to my uncle with his arm around him. They were singing "I've Been Working on the Railroad" in perfect two-part harmony. Everyone stopped in silence until the long (many versed) song was through. My cousin told me that's the only song he remembers all the way through. It was a beautiful moment.
Later I thought about the man kneeling next to my uncle and the sensitivity and respect he had displayed by reaching into my uncle's memory in the best possible way. It was an act of love I hope never to forget.