Music transports many of my listeners to places full of memories of lost loved ones, especially spouses. They take comfort in the journey, and find joy in shared reminiscing. Oh, my husband liked that song. Or, I had that song at my wedding.
When I played “Spanish Eyes,” Kay told me, “Whenever my husband and I heard that song, no matter where we were or what we were doing, we stopped and danced.”
Edwin always wanted to hear “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” because his wife played the piano and that was her favorite.
When I included “It Had to Be You” as a sing-along selection for the residents of a senior apartment complex where Lorna lived, she revealed that it was the piece she sang to her husband at his funeral. Even so, her voice rang out clear and strong as she sang it again with her fellow residents, emboldened by the personal significance of the song, remembering the man she loved.
Eileen was widowed young, her only child just a toddler. A few years later, with “April Love” playing in the background at a party, she met the man who became her second husband, and a father to her daughter. Love at first sight for both of them. He, too, has now died, but Eileen tells me, “I’ve had a wonderful life.” And hearing “April Love” takes her straight back to the parts she loved most. “I like the romantic songs,” she says. “They’re the best.”
I had visited William’s assisted living facility for several months before he timidly asked, “Do you know the clown song? When my wife and I went to Hawaii, there was a pianist in a restaurant who played a song for us. It was beautiful, something about clowns.” Well, let’s see. Maybe “Laugh, Clown, Laugh” from the 192os? No, not that one, he told me. Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown”? No.
It turns out the Hawaii trip during the 1970s is William’s dearest memory of his time with his wife. That decade was the clue I needed. He was requesting “Send in the Clowns,” composed by Stephen Sondheim for the 1973 Broadway production A Little Night Music. Sondheim has explained in interviews that the “clowns” he wrote about are not from the circus. Rather, he’s referring to the theatre tradition of sending in “fools” or comedians to tell a few jokes when the show is not going well. It’s a melancholy song, full of regret and sadness over love, life, and choices.
But for William, “Send in the Clowns” is simply a beautiful melody that brings his wife back for a few moments.
Now, every time I visit, he asks, “Did you bring “The Clowns”? Of course. How could I not?
Copyright © 2014 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.