The Ethereal Trees That Captivated These Dementia Residents

A music therapist is delighted to see her patients became entranced with the beautiful trees.

Posted in , Aug 26, 2020

A crepe myrtle tree full of angels. Illustration by Dawn Cooper

The residents in the memory care unit where I was a music therapist were agitated that spring day, fiddling restlessly with their hand drums and tambourines, as I tried to interest them in singing “You Are My Sunshine.” Each patient seemed to be in his or her own world, and nothing I did could unite them in song so that they could find solace in one another.

Miss Ross, who suffered from severe dementia, pulled me urgently to the windows. She pointed. “What are those trees?”

There were too many trees to know which ones she was talking about. “Maples?” I guessed.

“No,” she said. “The smaller ones.”

Mr. Sims hobbled over, followed by Mrs. Young and Mrs. Poole.

“Pecan?” Mrs. Young asked.

“Peach?” said Mrs. Poole. “I love peach trees.”

“No,” Miss Ross said, gently tapping at the glass. “The ones with the pinkish lavender blooms. I’m not absolutely sure, but I think I must have loved them my whole life.”

The room quieted as the mystery caught everyone’s attention. One by one the residents got up from their chairs and joined us at the windows. They gazed out at the trees, faces pressed up against the glass. I had never seen the group so focused. We all stood in a peaceful silence until Mrs. Young shouted at last, “Crepe myrtles!”

“Yes!” Miss Ross cried. “Crepe myrtle trees!” She laughed wistfully, old memories lighting her eyes. “I used to think the crepe myrtles in our yard came alive at night, when no one was watching, and walked around like angels, making everything grow.”

She admired the scene a moment longer, and then as quickly as it had come, the brightness in her eyes faded. She turned from the window and headed back to her chair, the others following. It wasn’t a day for “You Are My Sunshine,” but the angelic crepe myrtle had stepped in when I wasn’t even watching.

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