I am often asked why I choose to work in hospice and with the elderly. People have said things like: it must be so depressing to be around death all the time… nursing homes creep me out… how can you stand being a therapist for clients you know are declining anyway? My answer to those questions is twofold. First of all, I believe that all people are valuable and that they deserve to be loved and cared for, no matter what stage of life they are in. This means therapeutic intervention to help clients maintain functioning and to provide palliative care is just as important as rehabilitative care and therapeutic progress.
What’s been on my mind recently, however, is my second reason: I believe the late stage of life is an incredibly precious time, and I believe music provides an invaluable support and framework for that intimate time of life. When people are nearing the end of life, they might find the time and the means of expressing feelings and thoughts that they never have before. They may take time to reflect on what was important in their lives. Often, family members and friends gather near and share in this reflection. Music can be supportive of this process, especially when guided by a music therapist: music can help to establish a mood of relaxation or peace, or a higher energy level and air of playfulness. Familiar music can be chosen to support the sharing of memories. Music can be structured to provide a safe holding environment for people to experience intense and sometimes difficult emotions and to be expressive of these feelings even if they cannot be described out loud. As a music therapist, I feel greatly privileged to be a part of these powerful, intimate moments and to know that, with music, I can help people make these precious moments count.
I am experiencing a similarly precious and intimate time in my family right now. I just gave birth to our first child a week ago, and, along with my husband and other family members, I am experiencing the exhilaration and joy and fear and exhaustion that comes along with bringing a new person into our lives. Although some of the emotions may be different than those experienced at the end of life, I think the level of intensity is similar. Music has already become an important way for us to hold onto these special moments, from the music we chose to listen to as our daughter made her way into the world to the songs we chose to hear on our first nights together as a family, from the sweet and tender lullabies my husband and I sing to our baby to ease her into sleep, to the silly songs we sing to wake her up. Music is already an anchor in our daughter’s life and the life of our family, as I am sure it will continue to be as our daughter grows.
Music accompanies us through the beginnings of life and the endings, and through all the precious moments in between. Music therapy can help us use music to live our lives to the fullest, no matter what the circumstances. As a music therapist, I am glad that I can be there for part of the journey.