Sunday, October 28, 2007

Singing in the Rain

Hi Everyone,

John and I are touched by all the cards, emails, posts and calls. It is marvelous that he is still alert enough to enjoy all of your expressive thoughts and feelings. Each day I remind him how much he is loved and how wonderful it is he is really able to hear and see everyone's words.

This week John is becoming more and more weak, only in body however. He still is comfortable but does require greater periods of rest. As a result visitors now are primarily family and closest friends. It was a difficult decision for John and I to decide to decrease the number of visitors to our home. His current level of energy simply does not permit as much opportunity for loved ones to visit. So, we hope that this is something that all of you can understand. John, being the extrovert that he is found it a difficult choice to make, but realized he needed to maintain his energy for his family and closest loved ones.

It's been great that he has had opportunity to see several of his friends over recent months or during concerts over the past year. Now, he must rely more and more on written notes and messages through the family and I.

John still listens to music- all day long. And, that includes all kinds- opera, string, classical, jazz, new versions of jazz. Of course we slip on at least two John Arpin CD's each day. I'll never ceased to be amazed how even during his weakest physical states, and often when I think he is sleeping he will make a remark about some musical piece, or correct anyone in the room who mistakenly names a tune or composer. John can always accurately name the composer and title. As you can imagine, when these events occur we don't just hear who the composer was, but learn much more, including anecdotes about the musical piece, or the composer, a comment or two on his/ her character, training, or background, and even on how a piece came about. That' John- always a story-teller. For him no lyric or piece exists on its own...ever! It is always situated within a context.

I must tell you a funny little anecdote about our care for him, although it's a bit personal (he gave permission for me to describe this).
You know when you are ill you often have to be assisted to go to the washroom etc...
A technique often used in nursing training to help when someone feels too anxious to urinate or feels shy is to run tap water.
Well, I suggested something else in John's case, which worked beautifully and resulted in an evening of full entertainment! I suggested that we simply start singing all the songs that we knew with "water themes"! Well that got John really going. For me, I often could only get as far as two or three lines of a song if I started singing the tune. However, John was sure to finish it, and that included every verse! That bathroom break took quite a long time as John kept going with us all...and the personal care workers had a riot. (I'm sure they had never realized that there were so many tunes with water-related words). Songs like....."Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head" (some workers inserted bed); "Singing in the Rain"; "Down by the Old Mill Stream"; "Row Row Row Your Boat"; and "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" were among the many.
What a laugh! The technique resulted in several outcomes: The bathroom break was successful; John's spirits were further lifted; John's pain was reduced: Any stress I may have had disappeared; The personal assistants became even more jovial; and the "team in the room"- John, personal assistants and I acting as a kind of "group" reached a higher level of cohesion! And, this technique has no side effects!

Music therapy is a field of its own, with research based on several studies demonstrating its healing impacts on a variety of areas, including: management of pain symptoms, distress reductions, the alteration of physiology and in assisting individuals to reach personal goals!

The main point of this story really is one that you all already know - the power of music, in particular, John's music. Further power is achieved through the direct participation in music. So, for John to have to participate in an event where he is the main stage performer and which involves singing, the calling up from memory thousands of lyrics, the teaching of the staff and I to learn and sing along the lyrics, and which encourages the physical use of his lungs and other areas of his body there can be potentially remarkable effects. Of course the impacts include those of a psychological and spiritual nature, but I wouldn't underestimate the power of music at a more biological level.

Now, we have a new nightly ritual-no "good nights" for us until at least 3 tunes have been sung...and we promised "no repeats". I won't win at this- John will of course, as he knows far more tunes than I (But then of course he is 25 years older than me and has had a head start!)

I cherish these moments, and seriously, they really help with all the other stressful stuff. I have to observe disease progression each day-a change in one system or the other, more difficulty breathing or eating, or a change in his pain status. Seeing John's spirit latch on to something like the sing a-longs helps me to cope and reminds me that John will live life fully right until the end...and take a several of us along with him.

He is the most gracious patient I have ever seen...apologizing for any demands to our assistants and thanking them over and over again. They all love him of course. And, I see more and more, just what a precious fellow he is. I'm one lucky woman to have shared his life. That's what keeps me going.

Talk soon.

Best Regards,

Mary Jane


Christine said...

And the words can be so powerful too! From your blog to my kitchen table, I could hear your singing. Tell John that the two of you make beautiful music.

LeslieFagan said...

Dear John and Mary Jane,

These are special days - I am sure we can hear your laughter and music in our home in Hamilton. Thank you for sharing some of these intimate moments.
Love Leslie

Nigro Family said...

Mary Jane and John,

Thank you so much for starting the blog, sharing your personal stories and allowing so many of us to share our stories and admiration for John. I see that my Dad, John Moriarty has already shared my favourite "John Arpin" story. However, I must elaborate. Brianne was only four years old when we took her to John's concert at the Highland in Midland. At the end of the concert, Nannie took Brianne up to see John at the piano. John, you very lovingly sat Brianne beside you and played the Polka Dot Door theme song. As you finished, Brianne looked up at you and stated "you're the polka dot door man." John you are the polka dot door man and so much more to our family. It was always a pleasure sharing so many of your concerts with Nannie; she gave our family the gift of music and we will also be grateful to her. My favourite concerts were always the Parry Sound cruise concerts. My favourite CD, Ragtime on Broadway plays now in the background as I write this email. John, it was a pleasure getting to know you better through our various telephone conversations as we arranged the concert for the Midland Music Festival last year. Of course, one of my greatest disappointments was not being there for the concert. We are still in the land of camels and sand in Qatar. Thank you for giving Brianne the opportunity to play with, in our opinion, Canada's finest pianist. Words can not express our gratitude for spending time with Brianne and offering encouragement.

Katie Greenwood says that "Music isn't just learning notes and playing them, you learn notes to play to the music of your soul." John your musical soul has been a gift to many. I agree Mary Jane that it is therapeutic music as you state. During Nannie's stay at the Villa Nursing Home, nothing made her smile more than to hear the piano played. Placing her hands on my celtic harp and allowing her to make music once again when she was too weak to play the piano, gave her serenity.

John, your gift represents discipline, sacrifice and most of all passion. One does not accomplish what you have without these elements. May you and Mary Jane continue to find solace in the music.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you, together with our eternal gratitude.

Lovingly, Marilyn Moriarty Nigro

Please check our blogspot - I have posted a picture of John and Brianne from last year's concert in Midland

Anonymous said...

Hi to both of you,

The blog is great! Music, Music, Music - life is so full and rich when it is included! The moutains carry lots of song and I will make a point to keep that going with many thoughts of you both daily.
Laughter and Song
Cathy Fitzgerald

Leslie Johnson said...

I'm very sorry to hear of the passing of a truly gifted man and a valued member of the ragtime community. My deepest sympathy to all the members of the Arpin family.

Leslie Johnson
The Mississippi Rag

Anonymous said...

I didn't know him as well as I wish I had, but John's passing is a great loss for all of us. I wish Mary Jane and the rest of the family sincere condolences. Dick Hyman