DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Play Me a Song, Mr. Piano Man

Written by: on November 1, 2018

Traveling can be exciting and a pain at the same time.  I love the excitement of going new places, discovering new things.  However, traveling back home to see love ones, can often be a source of stress and pain.  I recently went home to see my ailing mother.  I knew there could be conflict with my brother Byron, her caretaker.  I struggled with going to see my mother, who has dementia and really does not remember me.  But something (maybe the Holy Spirit), kept telling me, but you remember her, so go.

I argued with my younger sister Eilleen, once I got there because she told Byron I was coming.  She said she did not want any conflict, which is inevitable with him.  I determined to go anyway, conflict and all, but planned to go early Sunday morning, hoping to avoid anyone else.  As I suspected, no other family members were there when I arrived.  I was greeted by the physical therapist who was evaluating my mother.  Mom did not look good.  She was on a feeding tube and was very confused.  She did not smile at me or even ask who I was.  She was just a shadow of her former self.  I watched as the therapist tried to talk to her and I tried to answer his questions.  This was much harder than I imagined.

I tried to stay and talk to her, but she looked right through me and then fell asleep.  I could not understand why my Byron wanted her on the feeding tube, and why he would not let her pass away peacefully.  I was angry, hurt and confused.  I could not take it and left the rehabilitation center.

I went to breakfast, and later shopping, but nothing seemed to help.  I attended an afternoon tea that a friend had as a fundraiser to support the American Cancer Society in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Although this took my mind off of the situation for a while, my mother’s condition was still on my mind.

Grandniece Sari

Kim’s Granddaughter, Cameron

I visited my niece’s five month old baby, and another’s friend’s Kim new granddaughter.  There was new life to be excited about.  My older brother, Mark and I spoke about preparing for the worst; he said it was just the cycle of life.  I left for the airport three hours early.

After passing security at the airport, I began to wander in the terminal looking at the stores to pass the time. In the distance, I began to hear a piano playing and tried to find which store was playing the music.  To my surprise, there was a white grand piano in the middle of concourse A in the Delta terminal.  I usually take Southwest airlines home, and I had not been in the Delta terminal since it had been redone.  I wondered whose idea it was to have someone playing the piano in the middle of the airport.  It was a great idea to me, because I love music.

I sat down to listen, and as I looked around others began to sit as well.  It was so comforting just listening to someone singing and playing familiar songs.  Soon the piano man was playing Chicago’s, “If You Leave Me Now” and I began to cry.  I thought about the line, “And if you leave me now you’ll take away the very heart of me. No baby please don’t go, no I just want you to stay.”  With that lyric it dawned on me why Byron insisted on having mom on a feeding tube.  He could not bear to have my mother, his heart, leave him.  My anger toward my brother slowly faded away. As I looked around at all the other people listening to the piano man, others looked like they were going through their own trials.  The girl next to me said she was sad because she was saying goodbye to her family in Michigan and heading back to Boston where she now lived.  Others pulled out their phones and took pictures, or recorded videos.  Many thanked the piano man between songs, adding tips to his jar.

Soon the piano man said it would be the last song, and we all said no, play another song.  He asked what we wanted to hear, and we shouted out our requests. Someone asked for something by Stevie Wonder, another asked for Elton John’s Rocket man, I asked for My Funny Valentine. The piano man decided to create a medley of all the songs.  We all laughed at how he put everything together.  We began to applaud, and more tips filled the jar.  Soon the area looked like a jazz club, and the piano man continued to play, others gathered around and seemed to drop their heavy burdens and smiling and singing with the piano man.

The piano man played for an extra hour and I was at peace about my mother.  I thought about the assignment for the week on visual ethnography and thought that this experience might work for the blog.  Everyone there experienced the music of the Piano man through the lens of their circumstances. Pink states,

“Visual ethnography, as I interpret it, does not claim to produce an objective or truthful account of reality, but should aim to offer versions of ethnographers’ experiences of reality that are as loyal as possible to the context, the embodied, sensory and affective experiences, and the negotiations and intersubjectivities through which the knowledge was produced.” (Pink 2013, 34)

Recording the events of the weekend helped me to understand what I thought I saw with my family, but as Pink states, “also the very things that I could not see (Pink 2013, 238).”


Pink, Sarah. Doing Visual Ethnography, 3rd edition. London: SAGE Publications Ltd., 2013.


About the Author


Mary Mims

I am a licensed and ordained Baptist minister and have worked with the children and youth for the last seven years. I have resided in the Washington, DC area for the last 30 years, but I am originally from Michigan. I am also bi-vocational and work at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the Scientific Library.

12 responses to “Play Me a Song, Mr. Piano Man”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    what a moving blog Mary, thank you for sharing such an intimate story. Letting go is so hard in many areas but especially when it comes to loved ones. I once read a blog that when the family found out their dad had dementia and they did a video series document all his stories so that when he couldn’t remember they were able to watch it back with him and after he passed. I think in the framework of sensory ethnography this would be research and analysis.

    In what ways can you see this personal experience translate into a corporate experience (as in a church context). In other words, do you think we/you can re-create something like this in your church context?

    • mm Mary Mims says:

      Thank you Mario, I struggled with the decision to share it. I think I could re-frame this for my church since we have a memory clinic held once a week for people with memory issues and their families. For congregations with large elder populations, dementia is a real issue that families are struggling with. How do you love someone who doesn’t remember you, is another issue that is real for a Christian and is not easy. I used a picture from last year of my mother when I last spent time with her because this is what I want to remember. Remembering that life has a cycle is also important for the church.

  2. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:


    I could see and hear your struggle as our family went through much the same a few years ago with my mother-in-law who was “mom” to me. We had our first grandson at the same time and the life cycle of life and death all at once can be confusing and comforting. As we looked through pictures of our family history it told a story we all wanted to cling to. Your piano man was a gift I tried to give my family during that time. I would sit at the keys and play to fill the air with sounds to make sense of all we were encountering. Pink seems to get this with her sensory and visual ethnography and presses us to grasp the human experience takes more than words on a page to grasp.

    • mm Mary Mims says:

      Tammy, what a blessing to be able to minister to others with the gift of music. I was surprised that God used something that I loved, such as music, to providing healing to my heart, mind, and soul. I think we limit God to using “Christian” means to minister, but He can use anything. Continue what you do with music, you never know how it touches others. Now I am getting ready to go listen to some more live music, just what the doctor ordered.

  3. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Wow, Mary. What a moving tribute to your mother, your brother, and our assignment. Due to our unique geographical connections, I actually know right where this encounter took place . . . and am imagining it now in my own minds eye. Prayers for all of you as you move through this process together.

    • mm Mary Mims says:

      Thank you, Jacob, for your prayers. I thought my travels this past weekend would get in the way of my homework. God is so good that he helped my assignment even while I traveled. Amazing!

  4. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    I am so sorry you family is struggling with the decline of your mother. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and sensations as you listened to the piano man. Isn’t it amazing how God speaks to us his creation through his Creation? Blessings dear friend and I am praying for you and your family, H

  5. Thank you Mary for sharing with us this part of life and giving us permission and opportunity to walk with you on this journey. Be strong and may God give you peace and strength as a family. I must say that your use of pictures and video makes it very captivating and elicits more emotional connection and response which, is exactly what visual ethnography adds to research and the communication of the same. Thank you so much for practically using the images.

    • mm Mary Mims says:

      Thank you Wallace for your prayers and thank you for seeing what I was trying to do. That was the goal of my sharing and what I like about visual ethnography. I thought everyone there was taking pictures and videos because they were trying to capture what they were feeling.

  6. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    Mary, I appreciated your openness and honesty in this blog. Thanks for sharing something that is so vulnerable. There’s a film we screened on campus a few years back on the power of music, especially in working with those who are suffering from dimensia. I think music is such a powerful tool for anyone though! I remember where I was, what I smelled, what I was seeing, when certain songs are played. I am glad that you had the power of music to calm you in the airport!

  7. mm Sean Dean says:

    Mary, my mom is the primary caregiver for my grandmother who has dementia as well. There is no point in time when my grandmother is not in pain anymore. When she’s clear, she’s in pain over what she can’t remember. When she’s in the midst of the dementia she’s in pain from all the things coming out of her. My mom has started praying that God takes her home, because she sees this pain. I only understand this struggle from where my mother is and I’m sure it’s difficult from other perspectives as well. I appreciate how tenderly you told the story as well as how the music soothed your pain. I really have nothing to add, other than to say I empathize with where you’re at right now.

  8. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Mary, thank you for sharing these personal details with us. I will hold you all in my heart especially heading in to the holiday season. I am processing a few things with my extended family right now and I was encouraged by your blog – how the Holy Spirit will gently but surely show us what we need to know – and for me, what I need to let go of when it comes to these precious and sometimes precarious relationships. Then there are the things we do not see or understand. Grateful for God with us. Much love…

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