Africa Heartwood Project

It’s amazing how, when I’m tense or intimidated, I cannot keep rhythm! I know simple upbeats, for heaven’s sake, but I’ll be damned if all I could do today in my first rehearsal with Africa Heartwood Project was find the downbeat. Sometimes.

I learned the basic melody and lyrics to 2 songs, and in 3 hours I perform with them in a Benefit Concert for Water. One day I hope to dance, too, but tonight I’ll just smile, sing, and shake a bead-covered gourd thing. (And my tail feather… just a little.)

http://www.africaheartwoodproject.com

It’s amazing how, when I’m onstage, I relax into simple upbeats and words I don’t even know! I sang all but one of the songs, and I rocked the rhythm! The Benefit Concert for Water succeeded in raising more than enough for the bore hole at Kukwaado, as well a hand-dug well in a Liberian village, and to begin saving for a third water project. It was a great evening. I felt honored to be a part of it, and happy! It confirmed that I belong on the stage. I love performing. There’s something about a live audience that makes my spirit sing. I’ll participate with Africa Heartwood Project whenever I can, and continue auditioning until I get a musical. And another and another and another!

Therapy Cat

Years ago, I saw a news piece on a nursing home with cats in residence, who brought comfort and companionship just by living their lives and roaming the halls. Nurses reported an uncanny feline ability to partner someone as they passed. It was not at all unusual for a cat to remain with a patient for hours and, in some cases, days.

The first thing I thought when I visited my facility in October was, “Oh! This place could use some cats!” You see, I visit a clinic that is, sadly, rather a dumping ground for those who have no one. Often, they are wards of the state. In fact, oddly enough, Nevada sends some of its patients to Utah to die. I never understood that while I worked in hospice, but it’s a common treatment of their indigent and terminal. Heartbreaking, no?

As I said, “This place could use some cats!”

I was visiting with [Joan] today and I’ll be damned if a cat didn’t walk in! “Well, hello!”

He was chatty and curious and just beautiful, with brown, cream, and copper markings interrupted by the odd white dab on his boots and muzzle, and a freckle on his lip. He hopped right on the bed, greeted me affectionately, then settled in. If I spoke to him, he answered. He allowed no more than three-four strokes at a time, preferring his independence and gently making it known. He just hangs out in my patient’s room every now and then. I’m thrilled. 

I’m so glad she was moved down the hall. I’m sure that catfellow visits because it’s quiet and undisturbed. Her roommate blared the TV all day. Now I play classical and/or instrumental music and sit with her in peace.

Best of all? My gal’s eyes were open today! “[Joan]…?” I said, incredulous.

“Yes, dear,” she answered in that thick New England accent, as though we hadn’t skipped a beat. There you are!

Oh, she had me laughing so hard today! She was really sharp, and sharp-tongued. She’s delightful company. We talked about animals and angels. I’d been missing her.

Christmas Miracle

I turned off the radio as I drove to visit my two little ladies. I said aloud, “Well, angels, now’s a good time to talk. Help me get through to [Jane]. So far, my face has not seemed to comfort her at all. I don’t care that dementia has made her angry. I only care that she does not seem to receive any benefit from my being there… so I leave. Please bring her angels in with me today so maybe she’ll recognize something familiar. I don’t know. Just… help me find a way to bring her peace. And let them both let go easily when they’re ready.”

I sat down with [Joan] first. She’s blind and a little confused, but her personality’s in full force. She’s quick, clever, kinda wicked, and pleased with her own jokes. I adore her. She hasn’t eaten for weeks but she’s still drinking, so she’s not quite active[ly dying]. But she’s slept through my last two visits. I miss her. I held her hand for 15 minutes or so. It’s hard to stick around when her roommate blares the TV. I sent her my thanks and love, and left. 

Then the long walk down the hall. I felt the fear creeping back up in me. “How do I honor [Jane’s] feelings without mirroring them back?” I prayed. “How do I bring joy without invalidating her anger? Walk in with me.” Oh, thank goodness! She was asleep.

I turned on some instrumental Christmas music and sat down, continuing to pray. I sat for about 20 minutes, longer than usual during naps, just enjoying a feeling. At last I decided to go. I quietly gathered my things, then turned back to say good-bye. And there she was. “Oh, hello!” I said, introducing myself again. “Do you remember me?”

She didn’t.

“I was just going to play some music and sit with you. Would that be alright?”

It would.

So I started over. Her garbled noises began. I felt the fear creeping up. (“Stay with me.”) Finally [Jane] enunciated clearly, “Heeeelllp! Help, heeellllllp,” over and over.

“How can I help?”

She indicated a string just out of her reach.

“Would you like the light on?”

She would. *click*
And she quickly changed her mind: “HEEELLLP! HELLLLP!”

“That’s pretty bright. Do you want it off?”

She did.

“We had a Christmas Eve blizzard all day yesterday, [Jane], and the sun came out today for the picture-perfect white Christmas! Did you know that?”

She didn’t.

“It’s gorgeous out there and it’s all the light we need, don’t you think?”

Yes.

“It is so beautiful today. Merry Christmas!”

She pointed to the closet.

“What a pretty sweater! Looks like Santa came last night. You musta been good,” and I’ll be damned if she didn’t burst out laughing! So I did too. [Jane] indicated that she’d like to wear it, but I was scared to move her. That twisted body looks like it hurts. (“Stay with me!”) I pushed her crash pad aside, sat on her bed, and gingerly tugged and lifted and wiggled and pulled until [Jane] at last wore her new Christmas sweater.

“We did it!” I sighed. “It even matches your nails. You look beautiful.”

And then the most amazing thing happened. Her eyebrows raised and she began to tell me in an excited, indecipherable whisper about this girl and that girl, pointing wildly at me.

“Me?” I asked.

“No, me!” she corrected.

“Of course! Tell me more.”

And she did. I kept praying that she wouldn’t feel patronized, knowing I couldn’t understand, when I had the thought, “For god’s sake, Christie, you’re an actress. Mean it!”

So I did. It was fun! This woman told me everything. She was so happy to tell me everything. I held and squoze and shook her hand and heard her everything. It was so wonderful to touch her! I was overwhelmed at the immediacy of their answer/ attendance. I was crying and laughing. I was playing, for heaven’s sake, and I stayed for an hour!

I thanked [Jane] for a wonderful Christmas and left to see Les Miserable with my family, my best friend and her daughter. My bestie whispered as the show began, “I’ve been waiting for this for 20 years!” We both fell in love with Les Miserable in high school: Me, the theatre geek onstage; she, the gifted flautist in the orchestra.

Les Miserable does not disappoint. See it! “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Some timing, huh? Sometimes you just have to believe in magic.

Thank you, angels. You seriously rock. Merry Xmas. Love, Xie