Homeward through song: an email ‘post-card’ from ESKA
Visiting Manly Court nursing home formed a part of the CPD for Albany associate artists working with the older community at MMA. In the following email-letter, artist and musician ESKA, an Albany associate and MMA artist at the time, describes her first impressions of a care home (having never visited one before).
There aren’t elderly care homes in Zimbabwe where I was born. Families take care of their elders. That’s non-negotiable. I’d hate to imagine ending up in a place surrounded by strangers in my elderly years. Needs must in the society we’ve created.
We are living longer but not necessarily better. When I was 18, I returned to Zimbabwe with my family. We visited my homeland or ‘kumusha’. Everybody has a kumusha – the land/origins of your tribe. It’s called Mtungwazi village. The bus-stop is called ‘Mtungwazi’ and so is the local shop. The pastor in the chapel is Mtungwazi and, well I’m sure you get the picture!
There was some singing going on in one part of the village. It sounded like a low, gentle drone of female voices. It was coming from one of the big mud huts. We were taken there to see one of the elders who was dying. She was lying down, surrounded by all these women who were also lying down and singing over her.
Her hair was gently being stroked and I could hear that she was fighting for breath. They had been doing this for weeks. She had not many weeks/days remaining, and these women were singing spiritual songs over her night and day.
I remember praying, God I want to die like that – with people singing over me.
Sorry if this is all tangential and over-romanticised but the care home reflects the society we’ve made and it’s not about enabling us to face old age and death head-on at all. We just can’t face having frail people in our midst. Putting them all together in institutions like that is outrageous. There’s not even a piano in that space!?!?! No music playing in the corridors!?!?
I can understand when there are great levels of medical care required that people need to be in the right environment to receive this. I can get that but if you’re asking me about first impressions, I’m overwhelmed and challenged beyond words. Rebecca, it’s going to take a long time to absorb yesterday,
Thanks again for a life-changing experience.
Feedback from ESKA, 2013
In a care home in Bermondsey in 2019 (six years later) the creative work has evolved to include residents who are bedbound. Cynthia, a care worker describes a moment when Entelechy Arts artists, Christina Brown, Rainer Knupp and Cai Tomos sing by a resident’s bedside:
This is such a different way of being together. I can tell she’s loving it. It gives value to her, and value to this part of her life.
I love my job. And you being here – and me seeing all this – it reminds me why I love my job. It helps me understand and remember that about my job. But it also helps me understand something about people at that stage in their life – so it helps me understand something about myself, too.
Big difference! It makes such a big difference.
It’s the singing. For her, she loves the singing. And with you here it’s more than one voice singing in her ear.
Cynthia’s description is briefly reminiscent of ESKA’s story where an elder is sung to by women in her community. In a London care home, there is an echo of how song and community might accompany an elder ‘home’ through the dying process.