Strength of song
When my 96-year-old father, Joseph Amicangelo, fell and broke his hip last fall, my sisters and I were concerned about his ability to recover from hip-replacement surgery. Falls and hospitalizations often cause a downward spiral for the elderly.
We were even more concerned when, after six weeks of in-patient rehab, we learned his mobility would not improve, meaning he could not return to his home of nearly 70 years in East Dearborn without 24/7 care. At the beginning of December, we made the heart-breaking decision to move him into a retirement community in Allen Park. The transition wasn’t easy. While he mourned the loss of his independence, we hurt to hear the despair in his voice.
Nearly three months later, though, my father is thriving, and we couldn’t be happier. Thanks to his strong will, he now is able to stand and walk with less personal assistance. Plus, his gregarious personality and irresistible charm have warmed the hearts of caregivers and residents alike.
Dad’s new environment provided something more. He now enjoys the opportunity to pursue his life-long passion for music. And the wonder that is the art of music has fueled his recovery and infused his new home with energy.
A singer and musician all his life, my dad enjoys serenading his new friends any chance he gets. Whether at the evening piano hour, monthly sing-a-longs, or during performances by guest musicians, you will find him at the center of the action, singing and encouraging other residents to join him.
One night after supper, I brought him back up to his floor. When he saw Robin, one of his favorite care providers, he raised his arms out toward her and began singing a popular Neapolitan song, Funiculì, Funiculà.
His booming voice brought aides and residents into the hall. Mrs. Parker, a former school teacher in her 90s who calls my dad her only friend there, stepped out with the aid of her walker to listen. Another resident, whose door is always closed, wheeled herself just inside the door frame to take in the music. At the other end of the hall, a resident marveled out loud, “That man’s voice should be insured.”
In short order, music changed the ambiance of the floor and brought out residents such as the petite elderly woman who suffers from dementia and rarely speaks.
“Sing with Joe,” Robin said to her.
My father kept singing.
After a few more prompts, the woman who rarely speaks, sang: “Kiniculi, kinicula.”
I was delighted. When my dad started singing You Are My Sunshine, though, I was amazed.
The once quiet woman needed no prompting. She sang every word of two verses and the chorus, her voice strong and clear, her expression suggesting a healthy dose of pride behind her dazed look. The music brought her back to better days, to herself, if only for a short time.
As I wheeled my dad back into his room, he said, “I know some people might think I’m foolish with all my singing, but at least I make these people smile and laugh and feel happy.”
I couldn’t agree more.
JoAnn Amicangelo lives in Dearborn, Mich., not far from where she grew up, with her two college-age daughters. She adores her dad, who inspires her to keep pursuing her passion for writing.