The old-fashioned Christmas carol began to fill the living room as the pianist caressed the familiar keys. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," was one she loved, and that holiday season it seemed angels hovered nearby.
"We look back on that as one of our most spiritual Christmases," Susan Darrington said, remembering her 94-year-old mother-in-law's extended visit in their home. "Because when you're caring for someone who is totally helpless and can't respond in any way, or thank you in any way and yet you love them and want to take care of them ..."
Susan's voice broke with emotion.
"It just felt like angels were in our home that Christmas season."
At least one had come for a visit.
Susan and her husband, John, had asked his angelic, aging mom, Gladys, to come during Christmas break. Susan would be free from teaching music, and John would be working from home and assist with Gladys' care. She suffered from Alzheimer's.
"The disease had ravaged her mind," Susan said. "She didn't know who she was or who we were. She couldn't speak any coherent sentences, so she'd just babble sometimes."
The voice her son remembers is one that through the years was often filled with song. Living in Gillette, Wyo., with his seven brothers and sisters, their mom was rarely silent; the sound of her singing or whistling held in his memory. Even a family trip to town called for a captured "choir."
"We'd get in the car, eight of us kids -- we didn't have seat belts back then, so you can imagine how crammed we were," John said with a smile, thinking back to the singalong and how music helped form their lives as adults. "One of my brothers is a very accomplished singer. The rest of us are choir singers -- OK in a group," he said laughing.
But Mom had the voice of an angel.