FULL CIRCLES: “Growing Elder” can be magical, life-affirming
by Marcia Singer, M.S.W., C.Ht. 77 years young
Full Circles and Growing Elder with Marcia Singer, MSW
If you’ve ever had fears about aging, this one’s for you: There are many graces in growing elder. One of them happens in moments when your life flashes before you in a mysteriously beautiful way. You sense that you’ve come full circle, that you’re right where you belong, and that Life is giving you a benediction. Full circling later in life is perhaps especially poignant, precious.
I experienced such a blessing a few days ago. It was unexpected (but then such moments always are.) I’d arranged for a phone counseling session for a woman in her mid-nineties. It had taken two weeks to set up. Belle (I’ll call her) wanted to ease her struggle and make peace with her deteriorating physical and mental capabilities. Once vibrant, forceful, active, Belle now was vacillating between depressive bouts of negative inner dialogue (what she calls her “mental stuff”), and periods of being her bright, educated, articulate self, wanting to spend what time she has remaining, in a loving way.
When I phoned, Belle said she was in bed, listless. She seemed unable to rise to the occasion of the session she’d fought to arrange: Should we just call it off? I sat silent, a mix of emotions. I thought back to the zoom video session we had a month earlier. I had sung to her, a little devotional, healing tune by Shaina Noll that touched us both, deeply. Would Belle like to hear that song again? “Oh yes,” she mustered, “It’s so beautiful.” With my husky morning voice, I began:
How could anyone ever tell you, you are anything less than beautiful? How could anyone ever tell you, you are less than whole? How could anyone fail to notice that your loving is a miracle? How deeply you’re connected to my soul?
Belle was trying to sing along. After a couple of repetitions, another song came to my mind. And then another, creating a flow of soulful remembering that in Love’s eyes, we are already whole and perfect. Our singing was a natural language of soothing, healing.
It was very quiet on the other end of the phone: Did Belle need to sleep? Want me to stop? “Oh no,” she murmured. “Please go on.”
Nearly an hour passed, offering up “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow,” John Denver’s “Sunshine On My Shoulders” (what a lovely meditation that was!) Songs were popping up like flowers after a gentle rain. I had so missed this way of singing, performing, reminiscing, creative ministering since the pandemic silenced my senior living and nursing home gigs. My voice had atrophied; But the joy, the musical play of it is still here: It’s part of me.
Tears were in my eyes as I told Belle a wee tale about another woman confined to her bed, but in a nursing home. “Silva” had survived an attempted suicide. She had one good eye remaining, limited brain capacity, and couldn’t talk. But what love, happiness and peace she could radiate through that eye… Such a teacher for me. So I sang to Belle my Silva song, “You Are the Face of God” (by Karen Drucker.)
Aspects of my life were coming full circle. Like singing to myself for the joy of it, or for comfort — even as a kid. Singing to others to connect and uplift, like to inmates at Vacaville State Prison as a social work student at U.C. Berkeley. Then there were fifteen professional years comforting lonely travelers in night club audiences, followed by twenty years entertaining elders, mending hearts, making friends in nursing homes. What a gift to me to be a conduit of soulful connection, of shared humanity. Sometimes to bear witness at Life’s Threshold, singing someone into the Light. Here with Belle, I was bearing witness to the universal need to give and receive love in our own uniquely beautiful ways.
I saw it all, I felt the integrity of my life, my destiny path and the mystery and perfection of just being who I am. Full circling. Mundane meeting sacred. My little life so big, so meaning-filled.
Two days later, I got a call from a former employer: Could I come back and sing to Memory Care? Goosebumps.
Shining deLight, Marcia
Listen to Noll, Drucker’s songs: