Paula Einbender, 66: “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell
More than 500,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19 since the pandemic hit this country and the world just over a year ago. NPR remembers some of those who lost their lives listening to the music they loved and hearing their stories. We call our tribute Songs Of Remembrance.
My mother, Paula Einbender, loved musicals and singing folk music. From family reunions to long car trips, singing (despite our talents) was one of them.
Although my mother died of complications from COVID-19, she had also suffered from Parkinson’s disease for several years. I believe the social isolation dimension of the pandemic accelerated his death. She was alone in her room for the last 84 days of her life and her symptoms, such as hallucinations, became more disruptive.
My sister, aunt and I started relying on daily video calls to keep in touch with her. My children and I sang regularly with her. We looked through the folk song book Get up singing page by page, spending hours playing and singing songs she knew by heart.
By the time she started to fall and was taken to the hospital for observation, she couldn’t handle the video call technology, but the amazing nursing staff helped us out. We were able to organize “private concerts” for him from our living room.
The songs she was most engaged in were the ones that had made sense throughout her life. Singing through tears and laughter every day for hours on end surely helped us, but also helped my mom – who, with no visitors or social contact to anchor her, drifted further and further away every day. I think the music and seeing her grandchildren learning the songs she loved brought her some comfort and peace.
Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game” is a song that I remember mom sang to me and my sister when we were little. Handsome and spellbinding, he has always been a family favorite. She sang it for me on a mix of cassettes that she made for me when I left for summer camp. I remember feeling it was such a mature and pretty song that revealed so much about life. I’ve been singing the song to my kids since they were babies, and my sister has done the same with her kids. We will always think of mom when we hear her.
Last year the lyrics stood out in a new way for me. I was able to watch and feel how, “The seasons go round and round and the painted ponies rise and fall / We are captive in a carousel of time / We cannot return, we can only watch / Behind where we are have been / And are going round and round on the circle game. “
My mom was a great mom and she loved being a grandmother. Her love for music and singing will live on in her grandchildren, which would give her comfort to know. –Rébecca Nole, daughter