Song in Pauline’s heart liberates songs in another’s heart

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 23, 2017

The song in Pauline Tan-MacNeill’s heart (left) inspired author Annette Stanwick (right) with a meaningful way to connect with relative with dementia.
Photos by Warren Harbeck

The song that broke forth from the otherwise voiceless Pauline Tan-MacNeill (our Feb. 23 column) has continued to echo in the lives of many of our readers.

I’d like to share with you the impact of her story on just one of our coffee companions, Annette Stanwick, and how Pauline’s song helped liberate the songs from deep within the heart of another voiceless patient.

You’ll recall that Pauline, a well-regarded former nurse, had been a resident in Cochrane’s Bethany Care Centre because of an incurable degenerative brain disease that had left her unable to speak during the last six months of her life. Her husband, Doug, invited my wife and me to sing some of her favourite hymns to her. When we had barely begun the refrain of her all-time favourite, she shocked all those present by audibly joining in. Not even her degenerative brain disease could silence the song in her heart.

When Annette read that column, she replied immediately, “Wow! It is so amazing that music could touch something so deep in her soul!”

That weekend she and her husband Clay would be visiting a 54-year-old relative with severe dementia who could barely communicate with others. “She used to love to sing and had a beautiful voice,” Annette said. “My husband and I love to sing. As a result of your column, we will go prepared to sing. We pray that we can reach her with music.”

Annette is an Alberta-based speaker, coach and author. Along with her own inspirational speaking, she and Clay facilitate marriage seminars and seminars for lifers in federal prisons. I featured her award-winning book, Forgiveness: the Mystery and Miracle, in my July 9, 2008 column. It is her story of the freedom she experienced in forgiving the murderer of her brother.

Now, in response to Pauline’s story, Annette and Clay helped a beloved relative re-experience the songs in her own heart. Annette explained their visit this way:

SHE SEEMED TO RECOGNIZE us when we arrived, but the ravages of dementia had scathed her ability to interact in a meaningful way. We tried to talk with her, but her efforts to return conversation were just an open mouth unable to utter any sounds.

She escaped our presence and continually walked the halls of the wonderful healthcare facility designed for her safety and enjoyment, opening and closing doors at will.  

When we were able to gently lead her back to her room and closed the door so she couldn’t leave, we began to sing some hymns she’d sung so often in previous years. We were stunned when she actually began to sing along with us. We probably sang six or eight songs before we could sense she was tired and wanted to rest.

It truly was amazing that music captivated her attention and she was able to sing with her once-beautiful voice. Nothing could silence the song in her heart, either.

Thanks for sharing Pauline’s story of the liberating gift of song.

—Annette Stanwick


© 2017 Warren Harbeck

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