Singing Goodbye with Hospice Music Therapy
Posted by Amanda Wilderman, Music Therapist
Susan was still fairly young, a 66 year old woman who had suffered from multiple sclerosis. When I entered the room, she was lying in bed, had slightly labored breathing, and did not respond when I greeted her or said her name. She had family surrounding her, two sisters and a brother-in-law, who all very kindly greeted me.
Her two sisters, Lisa and Grace, spoke to me about what kind of music their sister listened to and how much she loved music. I started playing soft, soothing music — Simon and Garfunkel upon their request.
As I played, Susan’s breathing appeared to slow and deepen slightly, although it was still audible. Her sisters remained by her side, and would at times hold her hand or kiss her cheek.
I played a couple of songs, keeping the music soft and gentle to create a tender environment for Lisa and Grace to interact with their beloved sister.
When I finished, the brother-in-law, Bob, mentioned that all three sisters were musical and enjoyed singing as well. I smiled, and did not pressure them to sing, but I told them that if they wanted to, they were welcome to sing with me.
Lisa, who was sitting next to me, suddenly had an idea and asked if I knew any Irish songs. They were an Irish family and had grown up listening to traditional Irish folk songs as children.
I played several Irish songs such as “Oh Danny Boy” or “My Wild Irish Rose”, in which Lisa and Grace readily joined in.
The sisters then requested I play a song I was not familiar with, so I suggested I play the guitar while they sing the song. Lisa and Grace turned to face their sister and soon, the room filled with the two sisters’ voices as I accompanied them.
The song was a special one that their grandmother had sang when they were younger, and the theme was about “going home” and even contained the patient’s name within the song. This familiar song that they knew so well from their childhood created a way for them to say goodbye to their sister.
I felt so privileged to have the opportunity to witness such a tender moment among this family.
Through the power of music, I was able to not only create an environment for this patient’s family to interact with her, but also created a beautiful memory for the family to take with them as well as a way for them to say goodbye that was comforting, familiar, and meaningful.
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Note: Names have been changed.