July 4, 2005

Rita & Fourth of July Memories

Happy July 4, 2005!!

I always loved the 4th of July! My first memory of this day was when I was almost 5, I became an aunt. I "insisted" Davy call me Aunt Ginny from the beginning....and he still does, even though he looks much older than I. (just kidding Dave!) Happy 55th Birthday!

There were always picnics and July birthday celebrations, tons of yummy food and of course fireworks! Fireworks over the School for the Deaf, over the Phila Art Museum, over St Peter's Village(they fell on the car), over Veteran's Stadium with the Irish boys, over Miami Bay, over the hill near the lighthouse in Aruba, the Heath Boys display, the Biltmore...but the best were those Jim set up in the front yard. Great memories!

But one of my sweetest July 4th memories was with Rita, my Alzheimer patient and friend. At the end of mass, Father Meyer suggested we all sing America the Beautiful, since it was the 4th! Mass had been held in the assisted living lobby because the chapel was being refurbished. It was an awkward set-up and we had taken seats that somewhat faced most of the group of 30-40 sitting in wheelchairs and easychairs. Everyone began to sing rather weakly without much enthusiasm, a normal response from such a group. Rita stood at my side, and it took several bars of music, but slowly, she started to sing. And did she sing! Suddenly it was as though a spotlight was on Rita, and she was the star! "America, America....." she belted it out with all her heart, standing there in her blue jeans and her red sweatshirt jacket, the top of her head way below my shoulder. "....God shed His grace on thee..."

I felt a rush of emotion, suddenly tears were unashamedly rolling down my cheeks, at first I thought it was patriotism, 4th of July and all, it is a touching song...no, that wasn't it..... but the feeling was familiar. Yes, it was like the feeling I'd get with my girls sometimes. Amazed that I'd be so blessed to even know them, let alone be their mom. Gratefulness..yes, that was it! "God, thank you for Rita, she's a gift," I whispered. Oh, I was so proud of her, singing with all her heart. Some of the visitors and Father Meyers smiled but most the the patients hardly noticed Rita's beautiful song. Mass was soon over, "Go in peace to love and serve the LORD" was the benediction.

"Let's go Darling!' Rita said pulling my arm.
"That was a lovely song Rita, you sang beautifully!" I said, still choked up, wiping my eyes.
"Song? Let's go Darling!" yanking at my sleeve. She had already forgotten her song, but I would always hold that sweet memory in my heart.

Thinking about it tonight, it hit me.....Rita had not only forgotten her song but she had forgotten all the 4th of Julys she had ever enjoyed. I never thought of these things before I cared for Rita. I sang America to her today, she just nodded her head, "That's beautiful, yes, that's nice Darling!" but she'd say the same if I sang the Barnie song to her.

She is now just a shadow of the woman she was long ago, not even the woman who sang "America" on a past July 4th. Rita can no longer "do" but she can "be". And in "being", she still touches me daily. Someday I too, might forget the July 4ths mentioned above but in that dark abyss of lost memories, may I "be".....may I sing a song, and when I cannot even do that.......God, please send someone to sit next to me, who enjoys the gift of a grateful heart, and appreciates the value of "just being"

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