“You are my sunshine.”
“My only sunshine.”
“You make me happy.”
“When skies are gray.”
A call and then a response; I would make the call; “you are my sunshine,” she would respond, “my only sunshine.”
She lay there in the bed, barely awake, barely alert, and barely conscious. She was only tenuously connected to the here and now. I didn’t know what she knew, what she understood, how connected she was. I was lost and didn’t know what else to say or do so I whispered in her ear, “you are my sunshine.”
I don’t know what I expected, I know what I hoped. I hoped for a response but I wasn’t sure I would get one. I wanted to know if she was connected enough, if there was enough cognitive functioning to recognize a song she had so often played. I wanted to know if her memory was working well enough to remember a song sung so many times.
Some of our best times were with Marty playing the piano and me sitting on the piano bench beside her. She played all kinds of songs but we mostly sang from a Reader’s Digest Book of Treasured Songs like, “You are my Sunshine”, “Side by Side”, “Down by the Old Mill Run”, and “Show Me the Way to Go Home” (her Dad’s favorite). We sang those songs countless times because I knew the melody and could stay on the melody while she sang harmony especially if I stuck a finger in my ear so I couldn’t hear Marty sing; otherwise I had to sing the same notes she did. I’m not a skilled choral voice. These were easy, fond memories I hoped were stuck in parts of her brain unaffected by the strokes.
It’s immediately what I reverted to when Marty was so sick from the 2nd stroke and laying in the ICU at Providence. It was my test for her cognition, it was my way of finding out what parts of her were still there, and if she knew I was there. I simply whispered in her ear, “You are my sunshine.” It was the best way I knew to tell her what she meant to me.
Day after day I would do the same thing. I would quietly call, “you are my sunshine,” she would respond in a faint, “my only sunshine” and we would continue the call and response all the way through the song, even through the pointedly poignant 2nd verse: “the other night dear, as I lay sleeping, I dreamed I held you in my arms, when I awoke dear, I was mistaken and I hung my head and cried.
Every time we did it, every time I got a response to my call I felt better, I felt connected, I felt it meant she was still there for me and she knew I was there for her.
We sing together today, not very well, but we sing. The strokes apparently robbed Marty of the fine vocal muscle tones needed to make a fine musical tone because we are off-key, at best. That’s all right, I don’t care, we still sing. She has taught me all of the words to “I Love You Truly” and that’s what invariably comes out when I say to her, “I love you.” Then we sing, a duet, completely off tune, completely out of sync, embarrassing all within ear shot, except us.