Senior Stories from Brighton Gardens

Written by Lizzie Weber, Tacy Foundation Volunteer

Compiled and edited by Anika Seth, Tacy Foundation Communications Intern

In this post, you’ll find touching stories written by Lizzie Weber, who spent time over the summer in an internship with the Tacy Foundation and Brighton Gardens, an assisted living facility. Enjoy!

Forging relationships through music

I’m a teen volunteer in a senior living facility for the Tacy Foundation. I have the good fortune of being invited to meet the residents and hear their stories, particularly around music. This is one story I would like to share.

Natalie was excited to talk with me about music, as music had an enormous impact on Natalie’s life. Natalie started playing music at 5 years old. When she was in 5th grade she played piano and guitar for churches. In later years, she taught children how to play music. Natalie described the most important things in life for her to be music and her family.

Natalie’s residence was unique in that she requested to have a piano in the center so she could practice all the time. Natalie gave me a song book she had created. The song book had classics and oldies such as “God Bless America,” “My Gal Sal,” and “Ain’t She Sweet.” What struck me most about the song book was the quote on the cover page: “Life without music would be a mistake.” The next week I volunteered, I had the pleasure of sitting with the residents and singing along as Natalie performed some of the songs from her playbook on the piano.

My impressions of Natalie were that she was kind, intelligent, and eager to connect. When I was interviewing her, she was very warm and open with me. At one point, I sang “Can’t Help Falling In Love” for her and she complimented me on my voice. She immediately picked up the tune on the piano, without even having sheet music in front of her. 

Natalie expressed that even though she was a proficient piano player, she was always ready to learn more. She told me a story about an incredible piano player who she saw perform. One of her friends remarked that Natalie was trying to critique him. She corrected her friend and said that, instead, she was learning. Natalie told that it was of vital importance to be open to other musicians, as music should not be a competition. I agreed with her wholeheartedly.

Natalie expressed that she loved musical artists such as Cole Porter and George Gershwin, but that she was open to hearing more than just music she was familiar with.

When I finished my interview with Natalie, I thanked her profusely for sharing her wisdom and story with me. She responded in a way I will never forget. She replied, “Thank you for making me feel useful.” Before I left, I said, “You’re not just useful. You are important.” The smile on her face when I said that was unforgettable. 

A multigenerational connection

As a Tacy Foundation volunteer, in addition to talking with the residents about music, I also participate with them in their daily lives, including exercising with them. Beth and I had an instant connection when I walked with her around the fountain at the front of the residence hall. She was quick to open up to me about her life. She told me about her son who was studying abroad in Costa Rica. She shared the struggles of having a family that resided far away, which resonated with me. We talked about everything from social justice to technology to education. She and I had similar progressive views, and we found it easy to find common ground. The walk was about forty minutes, but it felt like seconds while I was conversing with her.

Beth is extremely quick-witted and empathetic. When I informed her that I was nervous about moving back to my home state, she was eager to help. She gave me advice and assured me that I would adjust quickly to my move and easily make new friends. She even urged me to meet her grandson, who is attending Brown next fall. 

Beth taught me the importance of being open to connection with others, to embrace change, and to be appreciative. She emphasized the importance of family and being a good person. Lastly, she illustrated that you don’t need to be the same age to find common ground and to connect.

The hills—and seniors—are alive with The Sound of Music

When speaking with the residents throughout my internship, many of them emphasized the importance of seminal musical, The Sound of Music. Even though most of the residents had limited motor abilities and had slight memory loss, when songs from that musical played, each resident was brought to life. I noticed when a song from that musical played in the common area, everybody smiled, laughed, and hummed or sang along. One woman named Harriet, who had trouble remembering things in general, sang along to every single song from that musical. Another resident, Sharon, shared with me how she loved to act and dance, and that The Sound of Music was her favorite musical. I also shared with her that when I was in fifth grade, I played Maria in The Sound of Music. When I shared this experience with Sharon, she was excited and told me the musical brought back really happy memories for her. 

The residents’ connection with this musical in particular influenced my choices of what to sing when I performed on my final internship day. Two songs I chose to sing were “My Favorite Things” and “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” These songs not only had the most residents singing along, but also got the most applause of all of the songs I performed. I felt extremely lucky to have a deep understanding of the musical, as so many residents found it to be an important part of their lives. It was a great way to connect across the generations.  

Without being part of the Tacy Foundation, I would not yet have realized the importance that music has in its ability to connect the generations and bring back special memories. Music was not only a good way to start a conversation with the residents, but also deeply engaged them and me, and helped them feel important and happy. It also brought a lot of sunshine into my life.

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