My Sister & Sir Tom Jones
February 1, 2024 at 12:00 a.m.
...by Michelle Roedell, Editor, Northwest Prime Time
It’s not only that she’s intelligent, funny and witty. It’s more than that she’s such a great mom, a characteristic that carried over into grandma territory.
It’s not the fact that she grew up gracing movie-star good looks. Nor is it her unique creativity and style— including a talent for finding the most interesting, stylish articles of clothing ever discovered at the local second-hand stores.
I don’t pin it on her fierce independence or riled emotions that can rise quickly. She quelled but never lost the trait that led her, at age two-and-a-half, to proclaim that our twinkly-eyed Gramps was a ‘dummy-dope’ as she threw a shoe at him, all because her antics had him guffawing with uproarious good humor.
Lately, the wonder that is my sister focuses on her ability to fully enjoy life in the moment… her love of laughter and the zingers she flings about… her deep appreciation for long, intimate discussions... her gift for embracing quirky, humorous and touching stories.
It doesn’t hurt that she’s a great audience for my jokes, probably the only one in the world. I can tell her the same stories over and over and still expect a deep belly laugh and snorts of hilarity.
My sister has Alzheimer’s.
She was diagnosed many years ago at age 65. To me, deep-down, she is still the sister I’ve always known even if that’s not quite true anymore.
This is infinitely easier for me to say because I’m not the one fighting a daily battle with the disease. It’s not even my sister waging that war—she may or may not know that there is something terribly wrong with her. It’s her husband first and secondly her kids that take up the fight on her behalf.
Sadly, it’s a battle they are losing just a little bit more every day. But I’ve got to say, it’s a battle worth fighting. My sister fully enjoys the moments of pleasure and fun that life still affords her. That’s what I focus on.
I do help with her care, but not for extended periods. Add into the mix that I am not responsible for how to fund her care, manage her many medical problems, plan for her future and endure the pain, grief, heartbreak, uncertainty and the relentless, maddening frustration that living with Alzheimer’s means for family caregivers.
My sister cannot be left alone. She repeats the same questions and complaints over and over and over again. She is stubborn and easily agitated. She is completely helpless. As you dress her, lead her to the bathroom, wash her hands, direct her to the chair and pat it so she knows where to sit, guide her hand to the food in front of her that she eats with her fingers since she can no longer manage utensils… so much has fallen away.
But I try not to dwell on the losses. Instead, I search for and revel in moments of pure enjoyment with my sister.
We just want to have fun—it’s what we do.
My sister has a full-bodied capacity to feel the music. I mean, really feel it. Like many with Alzheimer’s, music has the power to reach out and grab my sister, to connect her with hidden feelings, long-lost memories and to the outer world in a very real way.
Within the last few weeks, she has developed quite a fan-crush on Tom Jones—he of the deep, booming voice and sensual delivery.
“He’s sexy,” she always declares when she hears his music. Certain of his racier songs bring a broad grin and devilish gleam to her eye.
My sister and I go on regular dates with Sir Tom as we drive around and listen to songs from his album, Reloaded. Tom doesn’t mind that we sing along with him off-key and at the top of our lungs until we’re hoarse with pleasure.
Yes, my sister’s world is getting smaller and smaller; what little she can manage will diminish. But I intend to share with her as many instances of joy, moment-to-moment pleasures, as her life with Alzheimer’s allows.
p.s. When listening to Tom Jones, my sister asks the same questions: “How old is he? Where does he live?” Upon learning that he lives in England, she always sadly proclaims, “I’ll probably never meet him.” But miraculously, a few weeks after discovering her love of Tom Jones, I found out that he is performing at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre on June 1 (2018). My sister will attend this concert. You can bet she will relish the experience, moment-to-moment. And I will remember that night on my sister’s behalf for the rest of my life.
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Heartfelt thanks to all who contacted Northwest Prime Time to say how much the story of my sister and Tom Jones touched you. For those who read the original article, you know that my sister is extremely disabled with Alzheimer’s, but that she is still able to enjoy life in the moment… especially music, and especially the music of Sir Tom Jones.
We have good news to report. Shortly after learning of my sister’s love of Tom Jones, I discovered that he would be performing in Seattle. As it turns out, not only did we attend the concert on the night of June 1, but we met Tom Jones in person!
It really did take a village of family, friends and well-wishers to fulfill this dream come true for my sister, and what a magical night it was.
By the time we found out about the concert at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, the box office showed no tickets together that would accommodate my sister’s wheelchair. But her son knows someone at the Paramount and uncovered the secret stash of accessible seating tickets kept in reserve and purchased four tickets for a girls’ night out so my sister and I could be accompanied by her daughter and our niece.
Our ever-generous parents splurged on a limousine to whisk us to and from the concert in style, with our other sister donating to the limo fund.
After the original story came out, many well-wishers contacted us with us kind words. A family friend gave us a favorite Tom Jones recording we didn’t have. But most contacted us to say they hoped there was some way my sister could meet Tom Jones.
One reader, the wonderful Keri Pollock of Aging Wisdom (a Bellevue-based aging life care management practice) called to say, “I did something a little unusual.” She knew someone (her husband!) who knew someone and was able to submit a request for a backstage pass to just the right person. Voila, a “meet and greet” with Sir Tom was arranged. As it turns out, Tom Jones’ staff also provided deluxe front-and-center tickets for us.
When the long-awaited moment arrived, Tom Jones could not have been sweeter or more gracious. His staff could not have been kinder. Sir Tom greeted us all and then bent down to my sister in her wheelchair and said, “Hello, Gail. How are you, Love?” My sister rose from the chair and told him, “I love you!” He replied, “Oh, love,” and kissed her on the cheek.
My sister still recalls parts of the experience, especially the kiss, how Sir Tom knew her name and called her “Love.” She now enjoys greeting people with a “Hello, love.” And when we drive around listening to Tom Jones music, she is sometimes moved to shout out the window, “We know him! We know him!”
As my sister’s memories fade, I will remind her of the enchanted evening we shared with Sir Tom Jones. And, I close this article as I did the last: I will remember that night on my sister’s behalf for the rest of my life.
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In case you missed them, you can catch up on past blog posts with the links below:
My First Blog Post
Luck, Pluck and Schemes: On Becoming a First-Time Publisher
Who Is That Cover Boy?
Goodbye and Hello
Our Own Field of Dreams
A Northwesterner's New York Pride
The Nun With the Heart of a Newspaper Woman
You Fool Me Every Time, Old Man
Call in the Bomb Squad!
A Parade of Pets
What's In a Name
The Grand Prize: When I Met Sy Rosen
It's a Small World
Jason Reynolds to the Rescue
A Few Words About Interns
With a Little Help from My Family and Friends
A Word About Senior Expos
The Sirs Robinsons: The Tale of Two Remarkable People We Met Along the Way
Rolling with the High Rollers
A Word About Interviewing Famous People
Celebrity Interviews - Part II