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Paula Einbender, 66: Joni Mitchell's 'The Circle Game'

Paula Einbender (first step), her preferred grandchildren (second step) and her favorite daughters Megan (left) and Rebecca (right).
Rebecca Nole
Paula Einbender (first step), her preferred grandchildren (second step) and her favorite daughters Megan (left) and Rebecca (right).

More than 500,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19 since the pandemic hit this country and the world just over a year ago. NPR is remembering some of those who lost their lives by listening to the music they loved and hearing their stories. We're calling our tribute Songs Of Remembrance.

My mom, Paula Einbender, loved musicals and singing folk music. From family gatherings to long car rides, singing (despite our talents) was a part of it.

Although my mother died from complications related to COVID-19, she had also suffered from Parkinson's for several years. I believe the social isolating dimension of the pandemic sped up her death. She was alone in her room for the last 84 days of her life, and her symptoms, like hallucinations, became more disruptive.

My sister, aunt and I started relying on daily video calls to stay connected to her. My kids and I would hold regular singalongs with her. We went through the folk songbook Rise Up Singing page by page, spending hours playing and singing songs that she used to know by heart.

By the time she started falling and was taken to the hospital for observation, she couldn't manage video call technology, but the amazing nursing staff helped us. We were able to hold "private concerts'' for her from our living room.

The songs she engaged in most were the ones that had been meaningful throughout her life. Singing through tears and laughter every day for hours surely helped us, but also helped my mom — who without visitors and social contact to anchor her slipped further away each day. I believe the music and seeing her grandchildren learn the songs she loved gave her some comfort and peace.

Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game" is a song I remember Mom singing to me and my sister when we were little. Beautiful and haunting, it's always been a family favorite. She sang it for me on a cassette tape mix 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 sung the song to my children since they were babies, and my sister has done the same with her kids. We'll always think of mom when we hear it.

This last year, the lyrics have stood out in new ways for me. I've been able to watch and feel how, "The seasons they go round and round and painted ponies go up and down/ We're captive on a carousel of time / We can't return we can only look / Behind from where we've been / And go round and round and round on the circle game."

My mom was a great mom, and she loved being a grandma. Her love for music and singing will live on in her grandchildren, which would give her comfort to know. —Rebecca Nole, daughter

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