In the past 20 years, as I led my Church congregation in music for worship services, I felt called to do more with my music, since I truly believe that music can be more powerful than words. After five weekends of training with a national organization called MHTP, Music for Healing and Transition Program, an exam, and 9 months in an internship with the chaplain at Capital Caring, I knew I had found an important direction for my music. The MHTP organization certifies musicians to serve the dying, and critically and chronically ill, by playing live, therapeutic music. Not to be confused with music therapy, in which music is used to engage people in pursuit of a treatment goal.
During my training to become a Certified Music Practitioner, I learned that music at the bedside can ease physical, emotional and spiritual pain, and create an atmosphere of loving kindness that can support the soul in transition. The vibrations from my voice and my guitar can help people relax, bring comfort, and lower anxiety. Before beginning, I prepare myself by making an intention to serve the patient and family with mindful compassion for the best possible outcome.
I have volunteered for Capital Caring for over five years, sometimes in the home, sometimes in nursing homes but mostly at the Adler Center for Caring in Aldie, Virginia. Most Music Practitioners charge a fee for their work, but I find that volunteering is more significant. I have been given this gift of music and I intend to gift it back to those who may be in need. Music practitioners look at our work as a service, not entertainment. If, for example, I can help a patient fall asleep with a lullaby or soft music, then I am truly doing them a service.
A 50 year old daughter of a friend of mine asked me to sing and play my guitar when her nurse colleague/friend was dying. The patient’s brother and three other close friends of the patient were in the hospital room when I arrived. I spent over an hour with the patient and this group – singing and talking during this vigil. The patient died an hour later. I received the following Thank You note from my friend’s daughter: “You made such a difference helping me and my friends during a moment and time of incredible sadness, grief, and fear. Your magic opened my heart and spirit to the unknowing world of death. Your music, suggestions, and warmth encouraged and directed us to communicate uniquely with each other, and our dear dying friend. Thank you for being here during our time of need. You are an incredible being. Love. M.”
I never know who and what situation I may face when I enter the room of a patient at Adler. All I know is that this building is a sacred place where the patient and family can feel safe and comforted by all the loving and devoted staff with whom I am proud to be a part.
I am a stranger, but welcomed, in the midst of vulnerability, intimacy, and fear. My hope is to help each person in the room open their hearts to the moment and to reassure them that they are not alone. I offer spiritual music and secular music. The choice is theirs at the onset. I recall one patient joining me in the singing of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” His daughter took out her smart phone and videotaped the experience. A week later, when the family was preparing the patient’s Going Home Service, the daughter called me to ask if she could show the video of her father singing at his own farewell. I was truly touched by the invitation and of course wanted them to use the video if they so desired.
The guitar is a very intimate instrument, and my voice is very soft. Together, we make a sound that hopefully brings a sense of peace and comfort. Trying to find the right music is always the challenge since there is a vast array of possibilities, and my knowledge is relatively limited. When I return home after my time at Adler, I always reflect on how meaningful the experience is for me, and I hope for the families I touch. I am usually drained and find that a nap with shoes on and a quick blanket to cover is just what I need.