Angels for Rebecca
Posted by Margaret Pasquesi
Drawing on their musical and clinical palliative care training, music-thanatologists use harp and voice to address physical, emotional and spiritual suffering at the end of life. Using music prescriptively, they vary the tempo and tone of music to respond to changes occurring in a patient's body, like a slowing of pulse and breathing, in the final hours of life. During their visits — music vigils — they alternate sound and silence to help patients and loved ones relax and rest.
Rebecca is actively dying. Her breaths have become agonal, and her skin is gray. Her cousin and I arrive at the same time, and together we sit by her side, offering her comfort.
Rebecca has been through quite a lot: she gave up her first child for adoption, then had another whom she raised. He died of AIDS as a young adult. The son she gave up for adoption contacted her, but has not been able to come out to see her on her deathbed. So her cousin is here, representing the entire family, tears streaming down her face, eyes closed as she listens to the music.
The musical prescription speaks of forgiveness, of all is well, over major melodies, slowly paced on the harp to synchronize with her increasingly slow breaths. After about a half hour, her cousin suggests that we open the door to the outside balcony "to let the angels come in and get her." I do so, then return to the harp with ascending melodies, using text that invites the angel Raphael, Tobit's healer, to come take Rebecca and "heal her soul."
As Rebecca dies, the music modulates upward with increasing dynamics to a song of gratitude and praise. Once again, her cousin closes her eyes, smiling. Tears again streaming down her face, she smiles as she says, "Look at how peaceful Rebecca is. She suffered so much in the last year. And now she is with her son."
I inform the nurse, acknowledge Rebecca's hard work, and give the cousin time alone with her.
Note: Names have been changed.
Music-thanatology is a vital part of our hospice care. JourneyCare employs three of just over 100 people in the world that have met the standards for professional certification by the Music-Thanatology Association International. Learn more about JourneyCare's music-thanatology program.