One of the highlights of providing music therapy for hospice patients is the opportunity to hear the role music has played throughout the course of a patient’s life.  It seems like everyone has some connection to music – be it singing in the church choir, playing in the school band, or singing songs in the car during family road trips.  Oftentimes as a hospice patient nears end-of-life many family members are present, proving a great opportunity to reminisce about family experiences involving music.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of providing music therapy for one such patient.  As I entered the room the patient had two family members present, and the room was very quiet.  As I took out my guitar the patient’s family informed me that the patient’s father used to play the guitar and the family members shared memories of being at their grandfather’s house and listening to his music.  I then began asking my typical assessment questions – if the patient was having pain, if he had eaten recently, if he was feeling tired, and finally,  what type of music he likes.  As I began to offer song titles, the patient’s family recalled that the patient enjoys Johnny Cash’s music.  I began to strum and sang some Johnny Cash classics, and watched as the patient’s family members moved closer to the bedside.

As the session continued one of the patient’s sons recalled going to a Kenny Rodgers concert with the patient just a few years ago, and remembered how much the patient enjoys the song The Gambler.  I sang that song, giving the patient and his son another opportunity to enjoy the song together.  We also sang On the Road Again and King of the Road, and the patient and his family reminisced about taking trips together, visiting other family members and going on vacation.

After singing these songs, we watched as the patient clapped his hands, and heard him voice his enjoyment of the music.  The patients’ family stated, “He was falling asleep before you came, but I can tell he is really enjoying this.  This is the most awake he’s been in weeks!”  I watched the room transform from a quiet hushed environment to a sense of normalcy – of family togetherness and memory sharing.

As is the nature of hospice, this patient passed away a few days later.  How wonderful it is to have music bring us together and created these special moments in our most vulnerable times.

~Jenny Denk, MT-BC