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This I Believe: Music is Stronger than MS

Haley Smith - Pittsfield High School
Beatrice Bonner
NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS
Haley Smith - Pittsfield High School

When my grandmother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, it completely changed her life. She lived in fear of when she may forget who she was, but more importantly, who she loved. In 2016, my grandfather had a stroke, which sped up the time frame of my grandma’s memory loss. 2021 This I Believe Illinois author Haley Smith of Pittsfield High School discusses her discovery of the power of music during her grandmother's battle with MS.

My mother did her best to keep my grandparents both out of nursing homes and hospitals, but eventually, it became inevitable, and we had no choice but to put them into nursing homes. I would visit both of my grandparents as often as I could. When they were in town, I visited them every day. When they were out of town, only a few times a week.

It didn’t take long for my grandmother to forget who we were, and at times, who she was. She could not differentiate between fantasy and reality. There were moments when I held a baby doll as grandma told me that it was her child and that he “really seemed to love me”. 

There were also moments when she would explain how she remembered singing the Carpenters with me after she picked me up from school. Every moment was clicking between the real truth and her truth. Although she didn’t always know me, there was one thing she never forgot. Music. If she ever began to get worked up or upset because she couldn’t remember something, or couldn’t form her words correctly, I would sing one of the songs that we used to sing together when I was young. After getting a few words into the song, she would join in, not missing a single word or beat. My favorite song was one of the first that I learned with her when I was young; “Sing,,” by the Carpenters. Although further along into her journey of MS, she often couldn’t even make a sentence, she could still sing songs with me.

Over four years, she fought the worst parts of her MS, long and hard. It took everything from her mind, except for music. I know not every person who is diagnosed is as lucky as she was, that some people got everything they ever knew taken from them, which makes me all the more grateful that my grandma got to keep our one thing.

In October of 2019, my grandma passed away. I felt like I had lost my grandmother for the second time, in a way. I often listen to those songs that she and I used to sing together from when I was 7, up until our last time. On her birthday this past year, I got a tattoo on my forearm in memory of her. It reads the lyrics “Just Sing” from our favorite Carpenters song. I look at it and remember her strength in her fight against MS, using the one weapon that I believe, in the end, was much stronger than multiple sclerosis. Music.

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

Haley Smith