I cozy up to my ninety-two-year-old grandmother on the couch. She stares into space and demands, “Who are you?”
I think her sightless eyes can see a vision, her ancestors, or angels coming for to carry her home. I ask excitedly, “What do you see, Nan?”
She turns to me, “Who are you?”
“Oh.” I pause. “Who am I? Well, I’m your singing partner and we, my dear, have to practice before we can take this show on the road!”
Even though most of my grandmother’s brain lies fallow, I’ve discovered the one patch of memory that still blooms with words – the lyrics to her beloved songs. Singing has become our new mode of communication; the magic switch that turns my Nan’s face on like a light bulb and lets her little light shine.
We spend the afternoon singing in the sun; crooning about Michael rowing his boat ashore, begging Liza to come back, and demanding the tallyman to hurry up and tally us bananas. It’s like Dementia: The Musical.
I’m enjoying this New Nan, no longer a stickler for the Rules of Appropriate Behaviour, as we belt out Jingle Bells in July. New Nan doesn’t give a hoot about the Rules of Time. Last week, she announced she was thirty-five. My mom, the pragmatist, said, “How can you be thirty-five, if I'm your daughter and I'm sixty-nine?” My grandmother replied without missing a beat, “Well, that’s your problem.”
Our insanely silly singing session is never complete without a rousing rendition of “You are My Sunshine”. We sing along in imperfect harmony. But when we get to the part, "You’ll never know dear, how much I love you" I choke up. My Nan can effortlessly sing these words, but no longer say them.
Eileen, her doting, live-in caregiver, comes into the living room to watch us bellow out show tunes.
“You two need a recording deal!”
“See Nan! We are good!”
Nan snorts and laughs, reminding me that her former self is still making appearances. The “we” just cracks her up.
“Alright, alright. You are good.”
My I-could-have-been-an-opera-singer grandmother beams with pride.
Too tired to launch into any more Hits of Yesteryears, we half-heartedly hum a few bars from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, nodding our heads like Muppet puppets: Danana na na na na naaa …
We’ve almost exhausted our repertoire – and ourselves. “Nan, let’s finish up with your favourite.”
My grandmother sings from her soul with such amazing grace that I half-expect the song to resurrect the Nan I used to know.
But that’s okay. New Nan is pretty amazing too.
I was blind.
But now I see.