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Resident Stories

It started with a phone call…

“They tell me I won’t be able to take care of myself for much longer, I’m going to need a place to live. Can I come see your House?” Of course the answer was “yes” and within the hour Albert was seeing Malachi House for the first time. In ten minutes, he decided he “might like to live here.” And in another week he was at home in an upstairs bedroom.

Quiet, reserved and polite, Albert never interacted with many of the residents or staff. He always seemed to be a loner. Clothed in his jacket and hat, he usually lay curled up in an almost fetal position in the middle of his bed.

But at Christmas, he found love. As usual, all our residents received at least ten to twelve gifts each, but Albert never opened any of his. He spread them around the room and just looked at them. It wasn’t what was in the gift that mattered, it was the fact that someone cared enough to give the gift. Then, Santa arrived and magic happened. This little gentleman felt loved enough to accept and give a hug to this large, red-suited man whom he had never met. Neither face shows plainly in the photo, and it doesn’t matter. This is what Malachi House is: love for the unloved and hugs for the unhugged!

“Where was I?  That’s right, 1961.”  Richard sang to me and told me about his life through folk music he had enjoyed over many decades.  Sometimes, he would ask me to sing while he listened.  He smiled and said “I love listening to you sing.”

Richard expressed his joy to stay at Malachi House, despite the fact that this included a cancer diagnosis.  Having been alone most of his life, Richard had no family or possessions.     He only lived two days with us, but since I had spent so many hours with him, we established a strong rapport.

When I arrived for our next visit, his hospice nurse said Richard had but hours left.  Honored to sit with him, I went into the room, remembering how much he loved when I sang to him.   After singing some of his favorite songs softly, I knew time was coming to a close and I thought of one non-folk song which Richard had particularly liked at our last visit: the old Louis Armstrong ballad “What a Wonderful World.”

The peace in the room was all-encompassing and after the last note, Richard took his final breaths before going into that next wonderful world.  In that moment, I learned firsthand the love that comes from serving as Christ wants us to serve.

“They tell me I won’t be able to take care of myself for much longer, I’m going to need a place to live. Can I come see your House?” Of course the answer was “yes” and within the hour Albert was seeing Malachi House for the first time. In ten minutes, he decided he “might like to live here.” And in another week he was at home in an upstairs bedroom.

Quiet, reserved and polite, Albert never interacted with many of the residents or staff. He always seemed to be a loner. Clothed in his jacket and hat, he usually lay curled up in an almost fetal position in the middle of his bed.

But at Christmas, he found love. As usual, all our residents received at least ten to twelve gifts each, but Albert never opened any of his. He spread them around the room and just looked at them. It wasn’t what was in the gift that mattered, it was the fact that someone cared enough to give the gift. Then, Santa arrived and magic happened. This little gentleman felt loved enough to accept and give a hug to this large, red-suited man whom he had never met. Neither face shows plainly in the photo, and it doesn’t matter. This is what Malachi House is: love for the unloved and hugs for the unhugged!

A veteran, an amateur musician, and a former computer technician, Bob had a love of organization and music.  Bob was a true “giver,” so I wasn’t surprised when he volunteered to make an index of our entire CD collection in the basement!   He repeatedly thanked me for giving him something to work on that made him feel “useful.”

As time went on, Bob’s condition began to decline.  He was no longer able to work on the CD indexing project, but he still wanted to hear music.   Having formerly played piano and identifying himself as such a “techie,” I just knew he would be delighted to play the Magic Piano on the iPad.  After playing “Scarborough Fair” with the Magic Piano application, he hugged the iPad to his chest with an unforgettable, child-like enthusiasm and said, “Amazing, just amazing!”

Bob loved to share music with others and would often invite staff, volunteers, family , and other residents to join.  Bob was now bed bound, but at his request, volunteers, staff and I gathered in his room one day to sing “Amazing Grace” with him.  When we finished our song, Bob reached out, hugged me and said, “God bless you, God bless you.”

“I saw a beautiful woman today,

Her favorite word was love;

She told me as she smiled,

She told me as she sung.”

 ~ a poem inspired by Georgella

Georgella loved to sing, so during our music therapy sessions, we decided to make a CD of her favorite songs.  This way, she could sing with her favorite artists anytime she felt like it.

Now usually, when I help make a CD, the resident I’m working with will just list the songs by title.  However, Georgella, in her special way,sang each tune to me and I did my best to accompany her on the piano or sing along.

Even though the CD was never finished, the process of creating the CD was an expressive and rewarding experience for both me and Georgella.  I once asked her how she felt when she sang and Georgella responded, “I feel beautiful and that’s something I haven’t felt often in my life.”  I felt so privileged to be able to offer her an experience that helped her feel beautiful.

Every Monday, two volunteers from St. Ignatius High School and I played music bingo with James.  He looked forward to this weekly tradition and enjoyed beating the younger men at the game.

James had a lot of unrest about his life, expressed through misplaced anger.  One day, James complained about the staff and his family expressing deep frustration, despair, regret and sadness.  After much venting, he admitted that he was actually grateful for the care he received at Malachi House and asked for the caregiver so he could apologize.  They both shed tears as he spoke.

Feeling tired and relieved, James expressed some spiritual unrest for the first time.   While not a religious man, at that moment he wanted to feel connected to God.  He fell asleep while I sang, “There Is a Balm in Gilead.”

In his final weeks, James was afraid to be alone and requested that I visit daily.   Although he nodded off most of the day, he would wake up to ensure he was not alone.  But, when I played live music for him, he allowed himself to sleep because he knew I was there.

I marvel that our connection made through a simple game of bingo helped James pass with a sense of calm, comfort, and peace.

Marie lived at Malachi House for several months.  On the day of her arrival, Marie saw me with my guitar and called out to me.  From then on, we spent much time together making and creating music.

When Marie felt her life on this earth was coming to a close, she became extremely focused on the need to plan her memorial service.  She trusted me with this task, starting with picking a song which she desired to have played at the funeral.

I was able to call in the seminary volunteer to have a joint meeting with Marie to plan her service.  The night after she finished planning her service, Marie’s condition severely declined.  I was able to send all of the arrangements to Marie’s son, as she had previously requested.

At the funeral, only one picture was placed in Marie’s casket. . . it was a picture of her and me holding a guitar and smiling.   Music therapy brought Marie joy and comfort not only in this life, but as she transitioned into the next.

Music had always been a part of Tom’s life since he was young.  Being blind, Tom gained great joy from music.  This was apparent from the day he moved in when we saw his very large Grundig radio.   The radio took up an entire corner of his small room and was his prize possession along with his harmonica.

Tom immediately jumped at the chance to make music with someone else and taught me many songs from the fifties, especially “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” and “Withcraft.”  Occasionally, family members came to join in on the music making as well.  Although we played the same few songs every time, Tom never tired of making music together.

I will never forget when I had gotten a little busy and had not come to see him for about a week.  Tom said very politely, “Please come often.  This is very therapeutic for me.”   I never went more than a few days without seeing him again.

Tom quickly got the nickname “Harmonica Tom” and everyone enjoyed hearing the music come from his room.

Catherine’s stay with us was short.   At 98, she had continued to live alone but she really needed more help than either she or her family realized.  Hospice was called and Malachi House was suggested; Catherine agreed and moved in that week.

She was happy to be here.  Catherine had been a hard worker all of her life and somehow, just being here had given her permission to sit back, relax, and enjoy her remaining time.

A timeless Italian beauty, Catherine greeted all of us with her beautiful smile and often kissed our hands when we visited her room.  Her answer to any request was “OK honey,” mostly due to her congeniality, but often because she was hard of hearing and had no idea what we said!  Her grace was evident and it was a pleasure to care for her.

Our favorite memory of Catherine however, was watching her face light up when her great-great-grandchildren visited her.  A child-bride at 14 years of age, she had been married to her husband for 80 years before he preceded her in death.   What a family legacy to behold!

It’s true that Catherine’s stay with us might have been short, but her smile will be remembered by all of us for a very long time.

Music brings comfort and peace to those who are nearing the end of life.  Elizabeth helped me realize that our residents bring the same feelings into our lives.

Elizabeth arrived feeling fearful and anxious.  She was tearful when I met her, but upon seeing my keyboard her tears dried and instantly, we bonded.  Elizabeth loved music—especially hymns—and requested to hear, “Whatsoever You Do.”  I knew the song well and happily sang it for her.  She thanked me because she felt a connection with the lyrics.

“Whatsoever You Do” became our song and we shared it every session.  One day, Elizabeth held my hand and made a special request, “When I have left this world, will you come to my room, close the door and play my song for me?  Although you will not see me, I will be here.”  I agreed.

Each visit Elizabeth and I sang, and she reminded me of her request.  We shared our song the day before she died.   The next day, I knew we still had one more song to sing.  I went into her room and closed the door.  As I sang and looked around the room, I felt calm and peaceful.  I knew Elizabeth was there. . . I had kept my promise. . . and she kept hers.

Frank was one of those residents who touched our hearts the first day he arrived.  Not because of a big smile or an enthusiastic greeting, but by whatever draws one person to another.

Frank didn’t join us for meals at the dining room table like some residents do; he chose instead to eat alone in his room.  Afterwards, he’d visit his “buddies” on the smoking porch, which was where he seemed to come alive and feel part of the group.

Daily, Frank would sit on the porch, just watching visitors come and go.  He recognized who did and didn’t belong at our door, and he knew everyone’s family members.  Gradually, he became comfortable enough to join us at the table for meals.  We were all elated when we saw the first real smile from him.

One morning, several weeks into his stay, Frank mentioned he was like the “security guard” of our Home.  That day at lunch, our Executive Director, Mary Kay, appointed him as “High Sheriff” of our smoking porch and presented him with an “official” badge and a sheriff’s hat.  His grin during the presentation was ear-to-ear!

This may not seem important or special to some people, but to Frank and his Malachi House Family, it truly meant all the world!

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