Sheehan

Bublé's music soothes a mother's mind

staff writerJuly 13, 2010 

Maybe it's Michael Bublé's voice, reminiscent of a young Frank Sinatra, that resonates in some corner of Betty Byrd's Alzheimer's-riddled brain.

Then again, not so many years ago, she was fixated on Sting. Go figure.

Maybe it's Bublé's clean-cut good looks and good-guy persona. But then Byrd has been married 57 years to her own dreamboat, Tom Byrd, who has cared for her in their Raleigh home even as her condition has declined over the past three years.

"What is it about Michael Bublé?" asked Linda Kolarov, one of Byrd's daughters and a Raleigh real estate agent. "Who knows?"

And on some level, who cares? What Byrd's husband and daughters know with certainty is that this 77-year-old woman - who struggles to remember what day it is, who believes long-deceased relatives are still alive, who gets confused about where she lives - finds rare peace, and rarer clarity, when it comes to Bublé and his music.

As anyone with a loved one who has Alzheimer's knows, after dealing with this heartbreaking disease for a while, you don't question the moments of clarity so much as you grab onto them, savor them, celebrate them.

More than that, you try to re-create them.

So when Bublé's concert tour stopped in Raleigh two years ago, Byrd was there. On the Byrds' anniversary June 27, they danced to music from a Bublé CD. And when Kolarov learned earlier this year that Bublé would perform at the RBC, on Betty Byrd's 77th birthday no less, she knew she had to get tickets.

She even tried to arrange a backstage visit with the star. No luck.

But even without a private audience, Bublé delivered. Or Byrd did.

All week, she seemed more tethered to reality, noting that Michael Bublé was coming in two days, talking about the music.

On Friday night, Byrd looked like a million bucks. She was sporting a new outfit, and Kolarov's sister, Judy Heckendorf, had helped her apply the rouge, eyeliner and lipstick she seldom wears anymore.

During the concert, she sang along to many of the songs, holding her husband's hand on one side, Kolarov's on the other.

After the concert, as Byrd walked on her son-in-law's arm out of the RBC stands, her eyes sparkled and her cheeks glowed.

"I loved it," Byrd declared.

The only person beaming more brightly was her daughter.

"Watching your mother with Alzheimer's is like seeing her fade in front of your eyes. She becomes more and more vacant. I hate that," Kolarov said. So she'll gladly buy tickets to every concert and buy every CD, even if the effect lasts just a little while.

"Seeing her smile again, seeing her light up, anything that will do that is wonderful."

ruth.sheehan@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4828.

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