It is a rare moment when one person gets the chance to touch the hearts and lives of hordes of people through a song. Standing on the stage at the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia’s 2008 Walk for Memories event, Shawn Hlookoff had just that chance. Looking up from time to time to see Stan and Shirley holding hands in the front row, Shawn caught their smiles and felt their connection. And through his music, the crowd caught a glimpse of what it must be like to be the Stans and Shirleys of our world—to be a woman who no longer remembers everything and a man who understands that the true meaning of love is patience. It is these moments that give Shawn a purpose and inspire him to do what he does best.
In the summer of 2007, a family friend who serves as chairman of the Alzheimer’s Society of British Columbia approached Shawn and asked if he’d write a song about Alzheimer’s and perform it at the organization’s next Walk for Memories. Without hesitation, Shawn said yes. But, as much as he was excited to help out, Shawn was also a little bit nervous. Without much personal knowledge of Alzheimer’s, Shawn felt the music come to him but struggled with the words to his song. So, Jack Voykin, the man who’d originally approached Shawn, filled him in a little bit with his own background. He also introduced Shawn to a couple named Shirley and Stan so that Shawn might get a glimpse into what living with the disease was like. Going to visit Shirley and Stan for tea one day, Shawn had no idea what this morning together would bring. He had no idea that he was about to get his song.
Sitting with Stan and Shirley, Shawn was first struck by how normal everything appeared. Shirley, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s, made him tea and offered up a snack. They chatted about stories from Shirley’s past and discussed some of her daily activities, including the journal she keeps as a way to keep her mental skills sharp. She talked about how frustrating it is for people with Alzheimer’s, sometimes they are seen as being mentally ill but they aren’t. It can be a confusing, frustrating, and painfully lonely affliction. But, Shirley was sharp and fun, she reminded Shawn of his own grandmother. How could this woman have Alzheimer’s?
It was only after tea, when Shirley left the room, that Shawn learned the severity of her disease. Shirley’s last journal entry had been written nearly nine years earlier. Stan had been unable to share that in front of Shirley, for fear it would distress her. As Stan and Shawn talked further, Shawn learned more about their life together, how Stan’s job basically consisted of making Shirley’s every need was met and she was happy and stress-free at all times. She needed constant supervision and couldn’t be left to her own devices for very long because she might become distressed. If she felt any stress at all Shirley would become anxious, which caused her to digress at an alarming rate. Shawn was shocked. How could this man so tirelessly look after his partner every second of the day, almost every day of the week (except for the one day of golf he allows himself!) and still feel so tenderly toward her? Stan’s answer to his questions was simple and straightforward: it takes a lot of love and a lot of patience. With that, Shawn was literally moved to tears. And, he had the title to his song—“Love is Patience.”
“How could this man so tirelessly look after his partner every second of the day, almost every day of the week…and still feel so tenderly toward her?... it takes a lot of love and a lot of patience.”
The song was a love song, but not a song about any love Shawn himself had experienced. It was Stan and Shirley’s story, and through their story Shawn was able to share what it is like to live and love with Alzheimer’s. It took about four months to finish and when it was done Stan was among the first to hear “Love is Patience.” Shawn himself sent Stan the song and an email, telling him how inspiring meeting the couple was for Shawn and what a special man Stan is. Stan was obviously touched by the song, telling Shawn in return that he had: “put yourself in my shoes and said the things in the song that I would have liked to have said but don't have the capabilities or the genius to put the words and music together. You tore at the strings of my heart and brought tears to my eyes.” Stan’s initial reaction was only the beginning. Performing live in front of Stan and Shirley was incredibly special for Shawn because of the emotional connection the three had made. It was an emotional day, but a good one. People came up to Shawn to tell him their stories and to thank him for the song. After the day had come and gone, he continued to receive emails from people whose lives had been touched by Alzheimer’s and the mayor of the city where he had performed wrote him a personal letter of gratitude for his contribution to the Walk.
Three weeks after the live performance Shawn received another huge gift from his song. A respected music producer, Rodney Jerkins, had heard the song and wanted to meet Shawn. In fact, he liked it so much that he set up a meeting with Jimmy Iovine, the head of Interscope Records. Sitting in Jimmy’s office as Rodney played the demo recording of “Love is Patience” was almost surreal. The man was responsible for so many brilliant careers; he’d even been John Lennon’s right-hand studio man in Lennon’s later years in New York. Shawn felt as if he was walking on air. It was a pivotal moment in his career and it was all thanks to a special song he’d written about two very special people.
The gift of song that Shawn produced still continues to give back. A woman in Los Angeles approached Shawn after a show and told him that she had his CD and that her mother, who has Alzheimer’s, loves it and even remembers all the lyrics to one of his songs. It is these moments that keep him honest and on track, writing with integrity and the idea of bringing life issues to light. With every song he writes, Shawn is always trying to improve his skills and hone his craft. Each song teaches him something new and helps him grow as an artist. “Love is Patience” showed him that songwriting isn’t about writing the next hit or chasing the newest sound. It’s about connecting to an audience. Writing the song, Shawn had no intentions beyond staying true to Stan and Shirley’s story and capturing the emotion he felt when he first met them.
Through Stan and Shirley, Shawn believes his eyes were opened to the idea of what love really is. Through Shawn’s sensitivity and connection with these two people, the rest of us can now open our eyes to what living and loving with Alzheimer’s really means.
Sean's website: http://www.hlookoff.com
Facebook: go here
Thank you Shawn, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Tamar Burris and Story of My Life®