This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine

The speaker at a seminar that I recently attended said dementia is like a light bulb in the brain that has somehow switched off.

But, she added, every now and then, and almost always unexpectedly, that light bulb switches back on, shining brightly.

The other day when mom was telling me what animals, people or things she was seeing in the clouds her light bulb lit up and was so bright, it out shined the sun.

She switched from describing an elephant she was pointing at to a conversation about my sister who passed away in late March after a long, horrific battle with Early Onset Alzheimer’s.

Mom totally caught me off guard, not only for what she said, but that she was talking about Nel in the first place.

Up until this moment,  she had only mentioned Nel by name twice since she died. And both times it was when she was having what I could only describe as nightmares, because she would scream out, “Nel, Nel, are you Ok? Nel, why don’t you answer me?”

It scared the dickens out of me both times, because mom is such a sound sleeper.

On both occasions I ran to her room, held her in my arms and both times she opened her eyes and  asked me where Nel was and if she was alright.

I whispered that Nel was fine, and with that, mom fell right back to sleep without a peep the rest of the night. And, the next morning, there would be no recollection of a bad dream or my coming into her room whatsoever.

Here’s what mom told me when the light bulb in her brain switched on.

“That girl (referring to Nel) could sure sing!
She sang songs her whole life. And, she spent her life caring for people.
A lot of dumb people said that was a waste of time, but she was good and always did wonderful, nice things for people who needed help.
I don’t think that’s a waste of time.
That girl was good her whole life.
She was a good girl.”

And then, in a blink, there was nothing but darkness and silence.

The next thing  I remember was mom pointing up in the sky again and trying to get my attention, “Look over there, that looks like a man’s head and his big mouth is open and he is eating another cloud. Do you see that? His lips are huge!”

 The fact is, I did see the man and he looked exactly like mom described him. And, his lips were huge.

Later that evening, after tucking mom for the night, the light bulb moment triggered another one I hadn’t thought about since it happened.

The night before we called 911 to have an ambulance take Nel to the emergency room, mom, Nel and I sang, ” This Little Light of Mine.”

And, Nel, who could hardly complete a sentence by this time, clapped her hands and sang every word perfectly in her beautiful soprano voice. The voice of an angel.

The next night she was he was admitted to the hospital and a few days later taken to a hospice where ultimately all of our prayers were answered and Nel was, after years of fighting a losing battle, was at peace. I closed her eyes, told her how much we loved her and  that dad would sure be happy to see her and show her around her new home.

About Tom Laughon

Tom Laughon (Pronounced Lawn) is President of Catch Your Limit, an organization whose sole purpose is to guide and grow leaders. His journey from lead singer in a rock-n-roll band, to a successful career in marketing & advertising to consultant, strategist, keynote speaker, facilitator, professor and writer is a fascinating one. Headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, Tom and his team guide organizations, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies to national associations, to "catch their limit" in areas such as leadership development, creativity, innovation, teaming and transformational change. His commitment to "practice what he preaches" has made Catch Your Limit a petri dish for round-the-clock discovery and learning. The firm's brand reflects Tom's personal brand: Fun, Inspirational, Strategic & Hot!

4 responses »

  1. I’m glad you continued to sing with Nel and that you still do with your mom. I did not know until my mother was in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s that old songs somehow come back to them when they hear them. Our family was gathered at her house one day and I decided to see if she could and would join in if we sang some songs she loved. My sister and I started singing “The Holy City,” (one of her favorites) and she joined in and sang every word with us after she got going, so we sang some more, with the same result. She seemed to enjoy it, but of course, she appeared not to have any memory of it afterwards. At least she enjoyed it in the moment. I remember your mom sang in the choir every Sunday back in Gainesville, as well as singing with your family, so she probably has quite a few song lyrics stored in her brain that she can enjoy while you’re singing them, and from what you have shared, she is not as far along yet as my mother was when we finally sang with her, so she may even remember doing it sometimes. Thanks for sharing these exerpts from your adventures with your mom. I enjoy reading them, and there is no telling how much you may be helping other caregivers to cope with the stress they face.


  2. I love all of your stories. They all bring back a special memory of Helen and Nel. this one certainly touched my heart. I still have a hard tell knowing that Nel is not with your mother. You think of one and you think of the other. I can hear Nel singing and we certainly sang a lot of songs during our time together. Your mother was right – Nel was a good girl her whole life. Thank you for your stories and for the love you are giving to your mother. Keep the stories coming as I look forward to each one. They are all a joy!!


  3. I’ve always loved that song and I can see why you chose it for this post. Wonderful! MJ


    • This song is such a part of our family’s DNA! I think I learned it before I learned how to walk. And now to have six grand kids (ages 3-13) sing along is like a dream come true! Thanks for visiting my blog and sharing your thoughts … it is always conveniently located on a computer or smart phone near you and open 365/24/7!



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