Music and Memory: Remembering the Good Ol' Days With Mom

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • As I work through the process of mourning Mom's death, I find that music - especially certain songs - tend to cause the tears to flow. Sometimes the songs are not surprising in their ability to tap into the well of grief, but other times a particular grouping of musical notes, a certain phrasing of words, an unusual inflection in the singer's voice will cause me to take a sharp inhale of breath and feel a twinge in my heart.


    On a recent afternoon, I was watching television when Paul Anka came on, crooning "Times of Your Life," which at one time was Kodak's advertising jingle. Hearing him sing brought back mental images of me a young girl, following Mom's every move and wanting to grow up to be like her. And those memories quickly brought tears to my eyes.

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    (Thinking back on these memories, I find that I'm dreading the day when I unexpectedly hear "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles; when it was initially popular, I was a young girl and Mom used that song to encourage me to hold her hand while crossing the street.).


    Another song that gets to me is "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." I have two versions - one by Jane Monheit and one by Victoria Vox - that I periodically play. Although different in style, both cause me to remember childhood trips during the summer when Mom and I would cross Kansas on our way to visit her parents in Missouri. Invariably it would be tornado season in the U.S. Great Plains when we'd make this trip, thus allowing me to closely connect Mom, our trips, and "The Wizard of Oz" (from which the song comes from). Now, when that song comes on, I mentally can see my childhood self back in the back of the station wagon with Mom driving. And again, the tears flow.


    But as I mentioned earlier, some songs tend to sneak up on me. For instance, two days before Mom died, I was driving back to my home when Cyndi Lauper's song, "Time After Time," came on the radio. The song wasn't written about dementia, but the words seemed to fit Mom's situation:

    "Sometimes you picture me--
    I'm walking too far ahead
    you're calling to me, I can't hear
    what you've said--
    Then you say--go slow--
    I fall behind--
    the second hand unwinds"


    Those lyrics are exactly how I felt at this point after spending two years watching Mom's sad battle with Alzheimer's. And I felt myself falling further behind as I watched my mother succumb to the combination of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Alzheimer's. Even today as I write this sharepost, I feel the tears welling up in my eyes as I think about Lauper's song.


    Music, I'm finding, plays an important part in the grieving and healing process. I'm not sure which song will capture my grief next, but - as painful as it is - I'm grateful when a song comes unexpectedly through the stereo speakers that helps me remember Mom in the days prior to Alzheimer's.

Published On: February 04, 2008