Volunteer makes happy noise for Matulitis Nursing Home

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Mon., Apr. 22, 2013
Matulitis Nursing Home volunteer Joan Lebkuchner sings to Biruta Paprockas.
Matulitis Nursing Home volunteer Joan Lebkuchner sings to Biruta Paprockas.

Joan Lebkuchner handed out song books in a crowded community room at Matulitis Nursing Home on April 18. The “Sing-a-long with Eldersong” books featured songs such as “My Wild Irish Rose,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and “Home on the Range.” Many of the residents knew the songs. Some of them didn't, whether for loss of memory or function. Yet all of them seemed engaged once the music started. A chorus of voices rose up. Some were off key. Some were off tempo. But they kept singing or tapping their feet or hands to the beat. 

It's a testament to the power of music that it can penetrate through memories disabled by age or disease. It worked with Lebkuchner's mother when she was a resident at Matulitis. “Sometimes she didn't know me,” Lebkuchner said, “but if I started to sing a song, she knew the words. She could bring that music up. And she had fun.”

Lebkuchner's mother passed away in January 2012. It wasn't until the fall that Lebkuchner made it back to Matulitis as a volunteer. “I always wanted to go back because I saw that some residents had no one coming to see them,” she said. “I just figured I could make a difference.”  

She makes that difference by visiting with people and by singing.

“I can't sing,” she said with a laugh. “I call it making a happy noise.” She moved through the crowd and around the assembled wheelchairs, singing all the while. She held the hand of a woman and sang to her. She helped another find the right page so she could join in. The old songs in low keys were meant to be easy to sing, but some were still difficult. “Yankee Doodle Boy” proved hard even for Lebkuchner. “That's a little high for me,” she admitted when they finished the song.

Lebkuchner is usually joined by Aldona Prapudenis on the piano. The septuagenarian from Lithuania plays concerts on a regular basis for residents. A lay woman, she lives with the community of Lithuanian nuns who built the home and have a hand in it still. “Aldona gave a great gift to my mother,” Lebkuchner said. “I'm so appreciative of that.” These days the two women team up on sing-a-long days. “She very much wants me to be a soprano and I'm not. She'll change keys in the blink of an eye, but she's funny. She'll tell me that I made her make a mistake.”

To those who might find residents with dementia depressing, Lebkuchner said, “You have to live in their reality. You have to focus on their strengths, not what they can't do.”

She took the hand of a woman sitting in a wheel chair and sang to her. Joy spread across the woman's face. She moved across the room and took the hand of another woman and had her stand up. They sang that way together. A staff member stopped at the doorway and Lebkuchner waved her in. A husband joined his wife for the session. A man joined his father. Bither and assistant Nichole Lemire came in to join in a few songs.

At the end of the hour Bither asked, “How are your lungs? Give yourselves a round of applause.” The room cleared within minutes to make room for the next activity – a Bible study. Lebkuchner took her time talking with some of the residents. She made it a point to touch their arms or shoulders or take their hands in hers. “For me it's very, very important that they have someone to talk with them and hug them and touch them in a loving way as opposed to just a medical way,” she said.

Matulitis welcomes all who are interested in volunteer work. For more information contact Wendy Bither at 860-928-7976.

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