The Return of Music Tuesday with Cathy L. Mason

Cathy L. MasonReaders, I’m thrilled to bring back the popular Music Tuesday blog series with a wonderful author I’ve recently met. Her name is Cathy L. Mason, and this is a beautiful and sad story about how music influenced her relationship with her mother. Thank you so much, Cathy, for sharing this story with us.


She was the first-born daughter of a first-born daughter.  I was her first-born daughter as well.  Perhaps that’s why we struggled to bridge the ever-present gap.  Too similar? Maybe too different.  We both definitely wanted to be in control, especially with regard to the music.

We both played the flute and piano.  I was the better pianist, even as a child, and she excelled as a flutist, but for too long we tried to keep up with the other.  Eventually we retreated to where our strengths lay and learned to make music together, rather than bumping up against each other’s ego.

Her talent was burnished to a blinding sheen by a laser-focused determination to practice hours every day, while I only played at playing.  My moderate abilities came naturally, which frustrated her.  We got past that.  Mostly, anyway.

When we came together and performed music we loved, though…magic happened.  Her brilliant tone and disciplined capabilities sent melodies swooping and soaring across the most beautiful of performance arenas.  I gamely kept up, although I cheated my way through the difficult parts.  We both knew it.  It was usually all right, but I always knew I could be better if I exercised the self-discipline she did on a daily basis.  I still didn’t want to.  I was a lazy musician and nothing was going to change that.  I knew I was somewhat of a musical fraud – I just hoped no one else could tell.

In my teens I was called to a musical position in our church she had yearned to fill.  It hurt her deeply and she couldn’t speak to me for some time.  We weren’t close anyway, but the chill cut through.  I had wanted the job as well, but never thought it would be given to me.  I was happy, but that joy was tempered with the knowledge that she felt undermined and publicly embarrassed.  Every Sunday, as we attended church and I fulfilled my new duties, the wound was reopened once again.  It took a long time to recover.

Again we made music together.  We took on more difficult pieces, especially those few had performed or even heard of.  I practiced how to cheat my way through the rough spots, while she practiced her runs and difficult intervals endlessly in the search for utter perfection in execution and tone.  My ability to gloss through passages I should have learned well grew, which annoyed her.  It was a mixed blessing – she didn’t like it, or respect it, but it gave her the opportunity to perform more because few accompanists could keep up with her.  She needed to perform.  So did I.  We knew each other well enough that no one could take one or the other’s place.  It was a beautiful, dysfunctional codependence.

Our reputation grew and we made music more often, but, as is so often the case, we again felt the divide.  I married and began raising a family, while she coped with a hellish marriage and health issues.  We communicated sporadically, but rarely performed together again.

Years passed and I missed our music.  I sometimes dug it out of the closet and ran through passages myself, but it wasn’t the same.  She wasn’t playing much any more, but I didn’t know why.  We lived a few hours apart, so it wasn’t practical to simply start up again.  And…she was different.

After a number of phone calls it became clear she was in a steep decline.  She indicated she needed help with her home, yard, and finances, so we reconnected.  I was shocked at her appearance – she was thin and almost frail, but still in good spirits.  It took very little time to realize she was losing a battle with Alzheimer’s, although it took some time to have her officially diagnosed.  We also learned she struggled with aphasia, a condition in which individuals cannot produce the word for a common object even though they know what it is.

Our lives descended into a strange dance of charades and guessing games.  No wonder she wasn’t playing.  We still hoped, though.  During subsequent stays at a senior living community and, toward the end of her life, an assisted living facility dedicated to individuals with serious memory loss, we tried what we could – Aricept, musical therapy, crafts.  Nothing worked, but I hoped, so hoped, we could rekindle that magic one more time.  Anything for more time.

We placed her beloved music stand in her tiny room, along with a church hymnal.  She deposited it in the bathroom.  We turned her t.v. to channels with religious music, always a favorite.  She could not turn it off on her own, so she would unplug it and then not recall why it was unplugged.  We encouraged her to attend the small church services local religious leaders would bring to the facility she lived in.  She loved them, but didn’t participate.  The words to familiar hymns were no longer there and the melodies she so loved were lost in the mists of time.

She tried to bring them back.  She leaned forward eagerly during the short meetings, attempting to mouth familiar phrases during songs and lessons.  She looked around at fellow residents, hoping to pick up cues for appropriate behavior during various portions of the services.  It was to no avail.  I thought her musical training and life-long body of work so ingrained in her would be the last to desert her during her decline, but it was irrevocably gone.  It was devastating.

And yet…

During her last few months we had several somewhat lucid conversations about our musical history.  She missed it too.  She knew it was gone, though she didn’t know why, and sometimes our discussions veered into strangely funny territory that had nothing to do with music at all.  That is life with Alzheimer’s and aphasia.

Still, the music did connect us.  We never played together again, but we relived a few wonderful memories.  She would beam, almost childlike, when I recalled certain performances.  We even laughed a couple of times at some of the crazier situations we found ourselves in.  We both needed that during those difficult months and years before she succumbed to a major stroke.

Maybe the gap between us was bridged after all.  Music is, as always, the great uniter, no matter the form.  For that I am grateful.


Cathy L. Mason holds a bachelors degree in Sociology, with emphases in Abnormal Psychology, Family & Human Development, and pre-law studies.  She also holds a masters degree in Criminal Justice and Corrections, with emphases in Abnormal & Deviant Psychology, Domestic Violence, and Forensic Criminology.  She is a lifelong musician, hardcore scrapbooker, voracious reader, and has recently discovered a great love of ancient history.  Her life is made better by her husband of almost 33 years, four amazing kids, and 3 1/2 perfect grandchildren.

Cathy has published three non-fiction books, including one called Nancy, about her mother. Cathy’s Amazon author page is here.

You can visit her on Facebook here.

And on Twitter here.

About Mary Rowen

My three published novels, LEAVING THE BEACH (a 2016 IPPY Award winner), LIVING BY EAR, and IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY focus on women figuring out who they are and what they want from life. Music and musicians have a way of finding their way into the stories. I live in the Boston area with my family and pets.
This entry was posted in #musictuesday, aging, art, family, memories, music, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to The Return of Music Tuesday with Cathy L. Mason

  1. Thank you both. I appreciate the opportunity to share part of my mother’s story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jayni wilson-sickler says:

    This is such a deeply personal and poignant post, Mary. Thanks so much for sharing it! It has a great deal of personal significance for me . . . jayni

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed my mother’s story. There are so many things I could have learned from her, had I chosen to do so. Stubborn youth and all, I suppose. Thanks for reading the article and taking the time to share your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Mary Rowen says:

      Thanks for commenting, Jayni! How are you doing? I hope all is well and that your “blogging sabbatical” was/is relaxing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jayni wilson-sickler says:

        Thanks for asking, Mary! I returned from sabbatical in November with a fresh attitude: less anal and willing to allow myself to post one writing per week . . . to just relax and let the words flow as, when, and how they wish! It’s so liberating!! Initially, I had set such strict standards for myself. Why?!? This is supposed to be fun.
        Anyway, how are you doing? Still snowy and cold in the Boston area? We’ve had a frigid, white winter here, so, I can just imagine what you’ve been experiencing!
        Blessings ~ jayni


  3. jan says:

    Very poignant story – my best friend in HS was a flutist. I used to love to listen to her play.Brought back memories of those days.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Stacie Camphouse says:

    Beautifully written. Although you don’t give yourself the credit you deserve with regards to your musical skills. I can personally attest to the amazing musician you are. I’m glad you shared your story!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Janita says:

    Your mom was a very neat lady! I’m so glad I had the opportunity to get to know her and yourself. Very brilliant lady’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Aaron says:

    What a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Katie Hatch says:

    Cathy , I think you are amazing! I am impressed with all you have done in your life, and how you have done it all with such grace. You are a inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, my dear, this is gorgeous, and reminds me so much of issues i have with my mother and her Alzheimers. Complicated by my father and his caregiving. (Mary knows of them: here’s an example: With my mother it is not music but reading, and there was no competition, but I still ache with a whole panoply of familiar emotions. A good ache when shared. There’s also a whole other story here about your mother’s hellish marriage, and how you managed to have a good and stable one. I notice those things not because I had a hellish marriage, but I continue to worry about the effect of divorce on my adult children and their relationships. It is always reassuring to find that the misfortunes of the mothers do not necessarily have to be visited upon the children. Anyway, thank you for every word. Made my Friday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading it and sharing your thoughts. I just read the article you wrote (via the link) – it’s beautiful in a weirdly familiar way. My childhood was different, in some ways, but there are undeniable similarities. You write beautifully and I enjoyed reading it.

      There is definitely more to the story than what I was able to share, due to space constraints. It’s a crazy situation I’m still sorting out in my mind. I have a blissful marriage to an amazing man, so I feel like the luckiest girl in the history of the world. I found the right one, which was key, but I also did everything exactly opposite of what I saw as I grew up. The same goes for raising our children, and they are all amazing, hardworking, intelligent, funny adults now – we enjoy them a lot. I often wondered, as a child, if I was doomed to the same misery my mother endured – I couldn’t envision anything different. What a joy it is to know that things CAN be different. I live life every day with my mother in mind – so much potential wasted and smashed down. I try to do good things so her life was not in vain.

      Thanks again. Your comments made MY day. 🙂


      Liked by 1 person

  9. Lovely, heartfelt tribute to your mom and your relationship with her. Yes, things can change, and I’m glad things were different for you and your family. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathy Mason says:

      My pleasure. It’s funny what we learn and realize in hindsight. How I wish I had understood her better, or even just understood myself better. I’m glad things were different too – I just wish we had had more time to build on that.

      Thanks for reading the article and sharing your thoughts. 🙂



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s