My family has always believed all birthdays are a cause for celebration, but this past weekend was a special celebration in honor of my father-in-law’s 85th. There were close to seventy adoring people. After the events of the past month, I was delighted to have something positive to celebrate.
I cherish my father-in-law and there is not much I would not do to honor him, the family patriarch who for years has filled our family with his love, generosity and wisdom. This year’s celebration was particularly important in view of his recent diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease. We have all grown accustomed to watching him sit uncharacteristically quiet during our family meals and discussions. Through his occasional questions, we know he is paying attention, but his interaction has been severely hampered since the onset of his disease.
The highlight of the evening was the presence of two Hungarian musicians, a violinist and guitar player. I watched as my father-in-law was transported by the music to his childhood growing up in Komarno. When the musicians arrived he sat watching in shock and then stood up, and began singing and dancing in the living room of his grandiose Toronto apartment to each melody and song played. It was as if he went into a blissful trance. I don’t remember him dancing like that since my wedding in 1977 where he swung me around the dance floor. We mostly watched in awe, but a few of us took the opportunity to get up and dance with him one by one. I was amazed by the way the music took him out of his cocoon and brought so much joy to this eventful day.
At the airport I picked up the magazine, A Scientific Mind and there was an article very apt to the situation encountered at my father-in-law’s party. The article was entitled, “Why Music Moves Us.” It discussed how music was the universal language. The neurologist Oliver Sacks in his recent book, Musicophilia, says, “Music seems to be the most direct form of emotional communication.”
As the mother of a son who is a musician I have seen the power of music and how it can sway the human spirit. For years music has been shown to improve both mental and physical well-being. In the elderly it has been shown to decrease anxiety and agitation. So now, I am suggesting to my beloved mother-in-law to push self-medication with music, even if it means hiring musicians once a month for a live personal concert. There is nothing to lose, but so much to gain and Oliver Sacks professes, “Music is the most direct and mysterious way of conveying and evoking feelings. It is a way of connecting one consciousness to another. I think the nearest thing to telepathy is making music together.”