Thanks to a generous gift from the Rolf and Nanette Lewis Family,
we are delighted that AliveInside.Org has 1,000 Memory Player headphones
to give away and volunteers ready to load the devices with music.
If you have an elder in need who would find joy listening to their favorite tunes,
please contact us: [email protected] or click here.
The following beautifully explains the story behind the Lewis Family gift.
Why a Gift of Music?
my sister, Karen Lewis Olson, and I listened to the music our parents loved ...
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
“Tea for Two.”
“What A Wonderful World.”
Rolf and Nanette Lewis had classical taste, from Broadway show tunes to Big Band standards.
When Karen and I had the opportunity to designate a gift in memory of our parents,
AliveInside.Org - and its beautiful mission of bringing music to Alzheimer’s patients - struck a chord with us.
Music stirs the soul and connects generations.
It expands the onrushing world of the young,
and refreshes the vanishing world of our elders.
All her life, our mother adored music.
She played the piano and often was humming or singing a bar from a melody that rippled through her mind.
We had a 1914 Model M Grand Steinway in our family home in San Francisco,
a city our parents loved.
As I write this story, I am listening to “Clair de Lune.”
Our mother played that silky-smooth song, named after a French poem, over and over on that majestic piano.
She grew up in St. Louis, an accomplished equestrian, a charismatic, cosmopolitan woman full of radiant joie de vivre who lit up a room.
“Tea for Two” was from the popular musical No, No, Nanette set in the stylish 1920s about a vivacious young woman. No wonder our mother liked it!
Our father, who sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge in 1947 with twinkling blue eyes and “only hope in his pocket,”
had the tenacious drive of an immigrant and an entrepreneur’s vision.
He was born into a cultured German family, whose world was shattered by the rise of the Nazi regime.
Eventually, in great peril, his parents swept up their three sons and fled to a Shanghai ghetto,
where they lived in abject poverty as war refugees.
To survive, our father took whatever work he could to help put food on the table.
One of those was as a dance instructor, for he excelled at quick footwork.
Later, here in the U.S. in happier times, he met our mother. They hit all the right notes together, an elegant couple. Our father liked an occasional Viennese waltz to remind him of his childhood in Europe, but he also fully embraced his new country and loved twirling his bride to Glenn Miller and Dean Martin hits.
For a man who made something from nothing, it was fitting that Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” became his personal theme song.
Along the way, Rolf Lewis proudly bought a home with gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay. Our parents raised us there. It looked out to the same bridge he had sailed under to discover his American dream.
At Christmas time, you could hear our father’s pa rum pum pum pums as he sang along to a recording of “Little Drummer Boy.”
To this day, any time we hear gospel singer Mahalia Jackson’s glorious “O Holy Night,” my sister and I smile.
It was our mother’s favorite song of the season.
Music was a constant and comfort, even as our world cracked.
In 1977, on a family skiing vacation in Switzerland, our mother took a terrible fall on the icy slopes, and in that moment, in that winter wonderland, our family changed forever.
At first, she was forgetful and asked the same question twice. Then she couldn’t remember where her keys were, what day of the week it was. She forgot how to tie her shoes, how to use a spoon. An Alzheimer’s-like dementia set in and stretched into an achingly long decline. She was a shell of her once-vibrant self.
Our mother was sick for more than two decades, from our teenage years through the majority of our adult lives. Toward the end, she couldn’t talk or walk. She didn’t remember our names. It was heartbreaking.
But what she did hold on to was music. She would come alive -- on the inside -- when she heard a favorite song. Her whole face lit up with recognition. Her feet tapped. Those soft brown eyes were bright again.
On one of the last days of our mother’s life, as Karen and I were visiting, we turned on the radio. Two pop songs played back to back. “Drift Away” and “Staying Alive.”
The symbolism was not lost on us, for it so paralleled her heroic tug-of-war between this world and the next.
When I got the call in the middle of the night in 2007 that the end was here, I raced to her bedside.
I brought a CD she liked by the tenor Andrea Bocelli.
As his angelic voice filled that dark room, I held her hand tight, whispered how much we all loved her,
told her it was all right to go.
Now most of the songs on that CD are sung in Italian. One, at the very end, is in English. It is hauntingly beautiful, and its title so appropriate for anyone who has lost a loved one.
What was it called?
“Time To Say Goodbye.”
Did our mother recognize the lyrics?
Did she remember the music?
We’ll never know ... but as her life story came to a close that night, we’d like to think that song gently struck a chord.
Eight years later, our father joined her. Surely, they are dancing again ...
In loving honor of the memory and music of Rolf and Nanette Lewis,
a gift of 1,000 Memory Players has been made to AliveInside.Org
to give to elders with memory loss so they can enjoy their favorite melodies once again.