Posted by Nicole Kaufmann
Music therapists use a range of musical techniques to help hospice patients relax, express feelings and recall significant experiences from their lives. Using both instruments and voice, music therapists encourage pateints to sing along with them or will help patients write songs to leave as a legacy for the people they love.
I don’t think I will ever forget one of my first experiences working as a full-time music therapist in hospice. Fresh out of an internship and living in a new city I realized I had some growing to do. I can remember my first couple of visits with one gentleman in particular. At the time, I was referred to help him with anxiety and processing of his illness. Strong, independent, and very open about what he wanted and didn’t, he was of course a little hesitant of the young woman walking in with a guitar ready to sing — wanting to know exactly how I could help him.
Our first couple of visits consisted of me attempting to explain how music therapy could benefit him until I realized I was trying to advocate more for music therapy than just letting the music do the work.
Connecting with gospel music, it was through singing “Give Me Jesus” that our work together finally opened up. He began to relate his own trials and struggles, expressing “Give me Jesus” after each one. As he processed the song, I began writing them down until before he knew it, we had created a new verse to the song with his own experience. We continued with this process, creating a beautiful re-write to the song.
By allowing the music to speak, we continued with songwriting in which he wrote about his life, struggles, and placing his trust in God. We began writing down and recording these songs together, until we had a CD full of songs that allowed him to share his testimony, process his decline, and express gratitude to God. He had so much pride in his work, using the music to discuss his grief and acceptance in his decline.
After completing several songs, we made copies that he sent out to family and loved ones as a keepsake, leaving words of wisdom before each song. We even held a concert in his living room, in which his entire hospice team came to hear him sing his songs, and share the meaning and importance of each one. Even now, after these songwriting sessions, he finds comfort and joy in hearing the songs — being reminded of the lyrics, his accomplishments and his journey.
You often hear the quote “where words fail, music speaks” by Hans Christian Andersen, and it was through these visits that I began to realize it. I didn’t need to explain all the wonderful reasons why music would help him because the music did it on its own. I learned from this experience how unique and special each person that we get to work with is and the importance of meeting them where they are at.
I’m constantly in awe of the strength, beauty, and knowledge that my patients bring, and it is such a privilege and honor to get to be on the journey with them.