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Singing to June - "Sweet Hour of Prayer"

June pushing June on way to Chapel 2007 

 (June and Stan on their way to the Holy Spirit Chapel for quiet times together)

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I recently discovered an item that I always carried with me in the days while June was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and a resident at the Alzheimer’s Villa of the Benedictine Health Care Center at Innsbruck…I always carried a small clear plastic sleeve/pocket that encased and protected two cards (back to back) with the words of two songs that meant much to both June and to me. 

Pocket Prayer song holderThe front side of the card holder contained the hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer” by William Walford, composed in 1845..on the backside were the words to the song “Take My Hand Precious Lord”, composed by Thomas Dorsey…Both hymns are to my mind, incredibly beautiful…

As most of my family is well aware, I am really not a singer but I would try my best to sing both songs to June during the course of the day. I always had my usual routines for the day and my attempted singing was  one of them. June at the time was in late stages of Alzheimer’s (Her 10th year and later…) and when June reached the 11th year she was unresponsive for the most of the time. June would sit with her eyes closed…It was my hope that these beautiful hymns would penetrate the dark veil of Alzheimer’s and be comforting to June.

It was also my attempt at bridging this disease’s communication barrier. These songs and my attempt at singing them were perhaps more of a comfort to me! I hope they were also a comfort to June. No one has ever returned from their journey into the shadows of Alzheimer’s so no one knows the effects of our attempts at communications in this cruel disease.

The first song “Sweet Hour of Prayer” is the song that I would sing to June during our daily visit to the “Holy Spirit” Chapel. Our visit to the Chapel was timed so as to visit the Chapel around noon time following the late morning brunch. I would sing “Sweet Hour of Prayer” in the quiet solitude of the Chapel…Because of my lack of singing ability, I would have loved to have had some accompaniment.  I often hoped that the beauty of the song would help to overcome my own short comings as a singer.

Sometimes after the song and while sitting in the quiet beauty of the Chapel in front of the alter, surrounded by the beautiful stained glass windows, we would both doze off for a few minutes. June and I would then later return to the Alzheimer’s Villa dining room area in time for the daily afternoon snack at 1:30 PM. During the daily snack period, I would feed June her snack for the day. For June this snack was frequently one of the Hormel “Magic Cup” frozen and flavored high calorie and high protein foods that are somewhat like ice cream…they were designed for late stage Alzheimer’s patients with swallowing difficulty. Following the snack period, June would have her afternoon nap in her room.

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June and Stan in Chapel 10-31-2007I would sing the second song, “Take My Hand Precious Lord”,  to June as she was awakening from her nap around 3:30 – 4:00 PM.

In June's last year, (12th) she was barely responsive and no longer spoke...she rarely even opened her eyes...this was such a sad period in our lives. I am sure that June loved to hear these old Gospel songs and that they brought comfort to her even though she was unable to respond in a way that I/We could understand. 

In singing this beautiful old song, I would also and always be accompanied by Elvis Presley on a recording…Elvis would effectively drown out my inadequacies.

I had a 2-CD set of Elvis called: "Elvis Presley - Amazing Grace" - "His Greatest Sacred Peformances." The two CD's contained over 50 of his Gospel and sacred songs.

I had a small CD player in June’s room setting on the side table by her bed in her room 207. Elvis was always my accompaniment on “Take My Hand Precious Lord”...I played this CD so many times that the CD eventually became defective and unusable. Elvis certainly made me sound good while he lasted!

Thomas Dorsey

I have also learned that Gospel singing was actually Elvis’s first love in his singing career. The song "Take my Hand Precious Lord" was written by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey who was also a victim of Alzheimer's and died from this disease on 23 January 1993.

Thomas Dorsey coined the term "Gospel Music". Thomas Dorsey died almost exactly five (5) years before June was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and he died on the same day of the month that June died.

Dorsey was said to have wrote "Precious Lord" in (August 1932) response to his  bereavement at the death of his wife, Nettie Harper, in childbirth, along with his infant son. This song was played at June's funeral. It was also played at the funerals of President Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr.

Here is Elvis with this beautiful old gospel song that Elvis and I sang to June, literally hundreds of times:

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"Take my Hand Precious Lord"

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Take My Hand Precious Lord 

"Precious LORD take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious LORD, lead me home

When my way grows drear precious LORD linger near
When my life is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand, lest I fall
Take my hand precious LORD, lead me home

When the darkness appears and the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand, precious LORD, lead me home

Precious LORD, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious LORD, lead me home."

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Now whenever, I hear Elvis sing this song, it always brings me back to the days with June at the Benedictine Nursing Home...The memories of those sad days and June's suffering that I was helpless to change, always cause my tears to flow..."Take my Hand" was a song written by Thomas Dorsey a great Gospel Song Writer who coined the phrase: "Gospel Music"...he also died as a victim of Alzheimer's.

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"Take my Hand" is also a required song at the quarterly hour long concerts that are provided to the residents of the Benedictine Nursing home as a gift from June by "June's Benedictine Blue Grass Five"...here is a link to the page that discusses this gift of music:

"June's Gift of Music to the Residents of the Benedictine"

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June and I have always harbored a rather low opinion of our own individual ability to sing. Neither June nor I ever sang solo... We always chose to do our singing in the security of a group setting such as our Redeemer Lutheran Church congregation. Neither of us felt we had enough talent to participate in or be a part of the church choir. June took part in most all of the church activities but singing in the choir was one exception!

With that back ground, and as indicated above, I have often wondered what June thought when she first heard me sing to her…My singing to June first started after she no longer was able to respond to me and was deep into the shadows of Alzheimer’s.

Did June know who was singing?…were the words of the songs a comfort to her?…It is my thought that they were a comfort to her...they were songs June always loved...I will never really know the answers to those questions!

  June and Stan Room 207 Bendedictine

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Photo Notes

Top photo (1.) is Stan on the way to the Holy Spirit Chapel with June in her Geri-Chair. Photo by Jim Gehrz in October 2007...June is in her 11th year of Alzheimer's. (2.) The second small side picture is the plastic sleeve or pocket that held the words - Lyrics to the songs of "Sweet Hour of Prayer" and "Take My Hand Precious Lord" that I used as my cue or prompt card for singing the songs. The third  (3.) photo on the right is a photo by Jim Gherz taken of June and I dozing off near the alter area of the Holy Spirit Chapel at the Benedictine Health Care Center. Photo is also in October 2007. The (4.) fourth and small picture is of the Rev. Thomas Dorsey the writer of the song "Take My Hand Precious Lord". The (5.) fifth and bottom center photo above these notes was taken by my daughter Julie in June's room 207 at the Benedictine Health Care Center's Alzheimer's Villa in late April 2006. Note the small CD player and radio on the small bedside stand on the right side. This is the CD player used to play the Elvis CD's. (6.) Lower right small picture is George Beverly Shea. (7.) Small lower right color picture is Marsha McNeely Ault.

These photo's (except the one above these notes) are all by Jim Gehrz (photographer for Minneapolis Star -Tribune) were all candid shots taken in connection with a feature article that the Star-Tribune published on 24 November 2007 entitled "June and Stan - to Have and to Hold for 55 years". Mr. Gehrz simply followed June and I around the Benedictine on a day in late October 2007. The picture of June and I dozing was taken by Mr. Gehrz on a return trip in the afternoon. Mr. Gherz arrived later then expected and went looking for us. I remember opening my eyes to flash bulbs from Mr. Gherz camera!

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George Beverly Shea

Here is a recording of “Sweet Hour of Prayer” by George Beverly Shea of the Billy Graham staff…he is also a master at singing hymns and gospel songs…How I wish that this great singer of hymns could have been available to help me sing to June…June was a fan of Billy Graham. June made monthly donations to his ministry and his crusades. Since Alzheimer's took over June's life and since June has passed on, I have continued the donations in June's name. June has many of Billy Graham's books in her personal library of faith. I remember the time that June and I attended the Billy Graham crusade when it was held here many years ago. I also know that June loved the singing of George Beverly Shea. I hope that all who listen to Mr. Shea's rendition of "Sweet Hour of Prayer" will enjoy this great singing artist as much as June and I always did!

"Sweet Hour of Prayer"

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See the essay on June's website that contains up-to-date information as well as the research on the subject of  "Music as Therapy for Alzheimer's". This information is contained on one of the "Care Practice" pages found on the drop down menu on the center navigation strip under the "Care Practice" label or click the below link:

"Music as Therapy for Alzheimer's"

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Stan's Special Postscript - Friday 10 April 2015

Today I made several postings on the internet on Alzheimer’s and caregiver related pages as well as my own Facebook page and June’s Memorial Facebook page…my reference was to this page on June’s Website relating to “Singing to June”….the postings also told of how I would always sing to June as she was waking up from her afternoon nap…during the time that June was napping in the early afternoon, I would spend this same time in the Benedictine’s Holy Spirit Chapel and also have coffee and talk with staff and residents in the lobby area outside the chapel…my normal routine was then go to June’s room around the time she would normally be awakened for the late afternoon dinner and would sing to her…my way of preparing her for dinner and take away any fears…I had a recording of Elvis singing gospel songs and I would play his rendition of “Take My Hand Precious Lord”…I would then sing with Elvis…I found that Elvis would make me sound good…I claim no musical talents of any kind…

Marsha M. Ault

My very good friend and an accomplished poet, Marsha McNeely Ault from Nacogdoches, Texas saw one of these postings…this inspired Marsha to write a poem for June and I by taking Thomas Dorsey’s song and revising it to make his beautiful song appropriate and personal to June and I and to June’s last days at the Benedictine...

Here is Marsha’s very special revised… “Take My Hand Precious Lord”...

                                   Take my Hand

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                                 Written for Stanton and June

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Like clock-work he came day after day

took her hand and prayed.

Painful though it was to not be remembered

he’d sing as she awakened from sweet slumber:

“Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me stand…

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light…”

Sensory inputs no longer recognized

by her dying brain, these words memorized

brought him solace and peace.

His heart pleaded for her agony to cease,

release her, oh please release,

so she can fly to heaven’s door

and be chained on earth no more

“Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me stand…

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light...”*

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 Reader's Comments

Dianne Cogar  - Springfield, Ohio - (13 August 2012):  "Hallelujah...Sweet hour of prayer!" (24 August 2012):"In one way, these pictures are heartbreaking to us who didn't know you and your wife's circumstances back then. Though for you, as soul crushing as this time was in your life, it is so obvious that these are "treasured moments" of a beautiful,...and evermore love ... continued to lavish June in during the disheartening hours of Alzheimer..."

Heather Pearson  - Alzheimer's Society - London, United Kingdom - (24 August 2012): "Friends' News: Stanton O. Berg, recent post in 'Dementia Aware Group'...talking about the dementia journey of his beloved wife June."

Susan Owens  - Manteca, California - (29 December 2012): "Stan, I just want you to know how much you inspire me with true love.  My husband had Alzhiemer's Disease for about 7 years before he passed away earlier this year.  It is true what they say when a spouse passes away, that you only remember the good times.  I have had difficulties, as I know many do, getting through this mourning process.  Did you ever get angry with June with her behavior from the disease?  I did many times and now I feel so sorry that I didn't control my emotions all of the time.  Because he was 2 different people (the 1st part of our marriage he was strong and sophisticated and he took care of and protected me.  The second part of our marriage, I had to be strong to care for and protect him.  There were times, later on in our marriage, that I felt sorry for myself... I very much loved both people but in entirely different ways.  Consequently, I feel like I'm mourning two people at the same time.  Anyway, thank you for your loving, heart filled posts.  I know the pain of losing someone you love, the unfairness of Alzhiemer's Disease, and the need to come to the realization that no matter what we do, we can't bring them back.  I hope the new year is kind to you.

Rick Hunsicker  - Bethlehem, Pennsylvania - (29 December 2012): "Bittersweet.... reminds me of when I cared for my dying wife..."

Stacey Carpenter Cotton  - Arlington, Tennessee - (29 December 2012): "Thank you for sharing this. Your love for her is so evident in these pictures and in every word you speak."

Gaye Davis Brown  - Birmingham, Alabama - (29 December 2012): "Stanton...Thank you for sharing the hymns. I love these as well. My mother was diagnosed with dementia a year ago. I spend a lot of time listening to hymns for comfort."

Lin Schmidt  - Anoka, Minnesota - (2 January 2013): "I love this story about the late Thomas Dorsey.  I can never get enough of it.  Thanks for bringing it to my attention again."
 
Eunice Graham  - Glasgow, United Kingdom - (3 February 2013): "My mum, who has Alzheimers also loves to listen to hymns. It can be very emotional."
 
Kat Schrack  - Bonita Springs, Florida - (3 February 2013): "Such love that endures forever!  Your love for your wife and God's love for each and everyone of us.  May your heart be comforted.  You are loved."...(17 April 2013): " My great niece sent me a recording of a waltz she played for my uncle a few years back.  She said he asked her to play it over and over.  Today, I played the recording for him.  His eyes lite up and he said, although not really talking much now and usually babble, "Beautiful.  Okay." Amazing music that touches our souls."
 
 
Lisa Cope  - Burton-Upon-Trent, Staffordshire, United Kingdom - (3 February 2013): "Your reaction shows how much you loved June, you should never be embarrassed for that. I can only hope to meet a man who loves me half as much as you love June, Stan. It's so touching to hear about how much she meant and still means to you...I hope it was happy memories it brought to you, even though they are hard to remember. So sweet of you to sing to June, it really was. My grandad has dementia, and he loves it when we put on music and have a 'singalong'" 
 
Merideth Sindel  - Sydney, Australia - (3 February 2013): "That's not an 'embarrassing time', Stan.  Grief is part of life.  So that experience was just life!  Have a good day...As Judy says, music can certainly have that effect.  And anything else that was a familiar part of your life together.  There are many things, even TV shows, that remind me of what is gone.  There are things that I avoid because even now the sadness can be overwhelming."
 
Judy Lemon Spooner  - Oliveira do Hospital, Portugal - (3 February 2013): "Music has that effect. It can be very releasing - but also embarrassing! There are a couple of classical pieces that open my floodgates ( my first husband died of MS )- you never really stop grieving even when you have "moved on".
 
Rose Elley  - Portland, Oregon - (3 February 2013): "Even without any words spoken I am sure she understood. May God Bless You and Hold You, Rose."
 
Tara P. Lodzinski  - Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada - (3 February 2013): "Music can be so bittersweet and bring out such emotion and memories."
 
Pamela Gilbertson Stenstrom  - Anoka, Minnesota - (3 February 2013):"That was the song that was sung while I served as Honored Queen of Jobs Daughters.....beautiful!"

Sally Gore  - Honolulu, Hawaii - (3 February 2013): "I am sitting at my computer crying like a baby you have touch my heart so much... You are a wonderful p... and was a wonderful h..., I can only wish I could be that lucky."
 
Bryn Sineath  - Hot Springs, Arkansas  - (4 February 2013):"I, too, brought my Mother to the chapel at Good Samaritan nursing home surrounded by beautiful stained glasses. We'd sit and hold hands. I love words in your" Sweet Hour of Prayer...(18 April 2013): "Amazing that he (Shea) lived to be 104. My mother did respond to music they played at nursing homes where she was"

Christine Pickard  - Lincoln, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom - (4 February 2013): "You are only human, quite understandable because of the circumstances ,the emotion you shown shows that...a truly remarkable gentleman and loved June very ,very, much ,no need to feel embarrassed, it shows you are a very kind & caring person, some times as you know, Life tests us out, you get through it all, but.never forget. Be strong for June, I know you are, take care ..."
 
Joyce Hill  - Hartselle, Alabama - (5 February  2013): "Your love and devotion to June is rewarding to observe on here!!  Sorry for your pain."
 
Stephanie Grier Bunker  - Prescott, Arizona - (17 April 2013): "I love this song. I can remember when I was little sitting in church listening to the congregation and my mother sing this song. Thank you for bringing up the memory."
 
Mary Anne Lattin-Merrell  - Minneapolis, Minnesota - (17 April 2013): "Music is one of the last things they lose with Alzheimers and Dementia diseases..I use music all the time on my unit....Lawrence Welk is especially loved...it's amazing!!! Even when they no longer can join in and sing along, it's apparent they enjoy it a lot!"
 
Emy Yokoyama De Almeida  - Toronto, Ontario - (17 April 2013): "Using music is a powerful thing! I often sing with the residents I take care of and I can feel and see that through music and songs we are able to connect without words, and often I get a smile back. This is priceless!!!...June was really lucky to have you!"
 
Beth Ann Doucette  - Lino Lakes, Minnesota - (18 April 2013): "Just beautiful, Stan. He was one of my favorites, also. I used to listen to him and Billy Graham with my grandfather on the radio on Sunday evenings...Good memories...Thank you for sharing."
 
Prem Tara Hazel  - Bristol, United Kingdom  - (15 January 2014): "That is so touching, Stanton."
 
Cher Riley-Hart  - Bristol, United Kingdom - (15 January 2014): "Stanton,  singing was a beautiful thing to do with June, it will have eased her mind whilst knowing you loved and cared about her I'm sure it would have prompted happy thoughts into her mind."
 
G'Anna Martin-Dent  - Amarillo, Texas - (15 January 2014): "I absolutely love seeing all the pictures and especially love reading about you and June. Melts my heart everytime! What a loving husband ...You will see your June again one day but the way you have memorialized her is so touching. Bless you."
 
Marsha McKneely Ault  - Nacogdoches, Texas - (15 January 2014): "This is one of my favorite hymns and I can play it on the piano...(13 May 2014): "I bet you sounded good to June and that is who it mattered to."
 
Maureen Williams  - Wirral, United Kingdom - (13 May 2014):"What a beautiful track, tears streaming down my face. My mum loves music too it calms her down and brings a smile to her face...I'm from the wirral. My mum has vascular dementia and Alzheimers, very fast onset. Your link on fb today was lovely, I'm goingto download it onto mum's playlist! "
 
William Charles Wilson  - Ryhl, United Kingdom - (13 May 2014): "Ada & Bill. Hi Stan. Wonderful Memories . Cheerio Bill."
 
Catherine Jones-Hatcher  - Richmond, Virginia - (28 September 2014): "I can picture you singing to her... you were such a support to her, even when she could not respond. I KNOW she felt it , and understood it on SOME level..."
 

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June's Passing

June 1994

June had battled Alzheimer's for almost 12 years when God took her home on 23 October 2008.  It was early one Thursday morning on the 23rd of October that as a weary and exhausted June lay like a wounded soldier on a battlefield,  felt God's gentle touch on her shoulder and heard the words: "Come Home June"...June's funeral notice as published in the Minneapolis Star in October 2008 can be seen on this website under the "In Memoriam" label - or Click on:

 

"June K. (Rolstad) Berg - In Memoriam"