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.
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.