Lucille Sider on spiritual resiliency in the midst of trauma: Taking on cancer ‘this step, each step’

Photo courtesy of Emily Kuhn via Wikimedia Commons.

Consider Meeting Lucille Online

Her Zoom series starts September 14, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. The weekly series of columns so far:

Then, if you are interested in taking part in Lucille Sider’s online conversation with readers, which begins Sept. 14, 2021, please look at the information at the end of this story.

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Taking on cancer ‘this step, each step’

By LUCILLE SIDER
Author and Contributing Columnist

I had lived in Chicago for four years—such good years. My dear friend Frank lived one floor above me in our building in Hyde Park. The University of Chicago, seminaries and museums were in the neighborhood. Plus, we lived just three blocks from Lake Michigan and we delighted in the ever-changing water from our own apartments.

Frank and I meditated twice a day. We met monthly with a meditation group and these people became like family.

Frank was always reading theology and we had marvelous discussions about his favorite theologians.  In 2019 one of these was Meister Eckhart, a German from the 13th century. In late July, he and a friend, went to Germany for a week-long conference on Eckhart.

Three days after they arrived home I treated Frank to our favorite Italian restaurant and it was there that I realized something was wrong. We were chatting away about a friend whose father had died. I mentioned that we were at the funeral. Frank had no memory about the funeral and was somewhat irritated with what I was saying. Frank does not get irritated quickly so this was out of character.  He then mentioned the car assuming it was parked in the lot near the restaurant. The reality was that we had not driven the car. It took some persuading before he was willing to walk home. Home was only two blocks away but he was not convinced that we had not driven until he saw the car in the parking lot.

Frank’s memory continued to deteriorate over the next week. He was admitted to The University of Chicago Hospital and was given a wide variety of tests. After three months it was determined that he had a form of central nervous system cancer.

For it, Frank received a stem cell transplant. This is a long and difficult process and I was shocked when I asked his doctor how effective this treatment is. He responded that this would give Frank about a 20-to-30-percent better chance of surviving.  I was stunned.  I assumed it would be at least 50 percent or more.  While I knew that his form of cancer is very serious, it was not until the doctor referred to the low survival rate that I became terrified.

Frank was a perfect patient. His faith was strong. Many days when I would visit, he would say, “I feel God’s presence. It is so strong.” Frank was very much at peace. But I was not. I had moved to Chicago to be near him and I could not imagine my life without him.

My own mental health started to slide. I lost confidence in myself and was not able to write stories, which I had loved to do. I felt exhausted even though I was getting eight hours of sleep. I travelled to Philadelphia to be near my brother and his wife but their loving care did nothing to stop the depression. When I returned home and visited my psychiatrist I was hospitalized immediately. It took seven weeks in the hospital before I could stabilize and return home.

The central psychological question was: Could I live without Frank?

If he dies, would I be able to carry on? Would I move to Washington DC to be near my son Soren?

It is then that the poem that I had written eight years ago began to speak to me on a very deep level. Back then, I had to let go of the fear of losing my house once again. Now, I must let go of my beloved friend and place my hope in God alone.

These lines once again guided me. “Oh Lord, please give me the grace to hold lightly any person and to open my heart to God’s abounding love and abiding rest and be free.”

Frank has now been free of cancer for over a year. He receives an MRI twice a year. We both hold our breath as we await the results. It seems that I agonize over this more than he does. In some ways, his faith is stronger than mine. He believes he will live as long as God has some purpose for him. And it is clear to him that at the moment he has purpose in a number of ways. He is organist at Montgomery Place, a home for retired people. He is a spiritual director and it is clear that his wisdom is powerful in guiding his counselees.

I receive support from several close friends as well as from a psychologist and psychiatrist. My faith is stronger than ever. When I begin to falter I return to spiritual practices I developed with Frank.

One is a walking meditation. It is so simple. I simply walk slowly and repeat these words:

This step, each step, right here, right now.
This step, each step, right here, right now.

The past is behind and the future has not arrived.  Thus these words:

This step, each step, right here, right now.

And finally, the little chant Frank and I composed many years ago, is as powerful now as it was then:

Let it come, let it go,
Let it come, let it flow,
All is well.

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Look for the next part in Lucille’s series in our September 20, 2021, issue of ReadTheSpirit magazine.

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Care to take part in Lucille’s September 14, 2021, Zoom?

Just click on this image from Lucille’s Zoom poster, below, and you will see a full PDF of this handbill, which you can download, print, share with friends or post where friends will see it.

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Lucille Sider on spiritual resiliency after trauma: ‘All manner of things shall be well’

What do you see in this photo of a stream in autumn? The fallen leaves? The waters of uncertain depth? Or do you see stepping stones?

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Share These Stories of Resilience, Now

THEN, PLEASE MEET THE AUTHOR IN SEPTEMBER

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lucille Sider already has inspired readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma, every week in neighborhoods everywhere. This weekly series of columns began on August 23 with a first story, The Perfect House. This second column builds on that first one. Please, share these column with friends via email or social media (or print out a copy to share using the convenient “print friendly” button at the end of the story). Then, if you are interested in taking part in Lucille Sider’s online conversation with readers in September 2021, please look at the information at the end of this story.

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‘All Manner of Things Shall Be Well’

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Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

By LUCILLE SIDER
Author and Contributing Columnist

For two years my perfect house brought deep joy.

Visitors poured in. That first summer I invited my nieces for a week-end. Two came from Ontario, Canada, and two from Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania nieces brought beautiful toddler boys and we all loved watching them splash by the fountain.

We had a lot of fun and a lot of deep sharing. Four of us had been sexually abused by my brother-in-law, Edmond. The niece who was not abused just shook her head appalled but grateful that he had not reached her. We prayed together and felt so upheld by each other.

My son and his wife came from Washington, DC, and that first Christmas opening gifts in the living room in front of the fireplace was heaven. My cat PJ was on every lap taking in all the love he could find. He had been a gift from my son and daughter-in-law when I moved into the house.

My brother and his wife who had master-minded the rebuilding after a major flood came to visit and always helped with some house project. And always, we went to Lowe’s and found just what we needed.

I loved to show off my garden, especially to my female friends from church. While we were playing croquet in my back yard, I delighted in showing them the flowers: azaleas, petunias, geraniums, impatiens and on and on.

In fact, that first year I could not bear to let my flowers die so I just started potting them and carrying them into my house. Every window was dressed with the flowers. I later counted and found that I had 91 plants in the house.

Just one small area of my indoor garden!

I also had a plant infirmary where I could give them extra TLC with a large grow light. That year I had countless tea parties in my beautiful living room garden.

I was enjoying all of my relationships with family and long-time friends. One of those friends was Frank, who I had met in our 30s when he was the pastor of a church in Chicago and I was the church’s pastoral counselor. We formed a small spirituality group with some other friends and we remained in touch even as we found ourselves moving around the country.

My friend Frank had by this time moved to Pennsylvania from Chicago. Now we were only three hours away from each other and we were back and forth often. He loved to sit on my deck surrounded by flowers. That first fall I had 15 mums and, coupled with my water fountain, the setting was idyllic. We chatted and we meditated as we do when we’re together.

Frank had started a meditation group in Pennsylvania and I was always invited to participate. I went as often as possible. The time that affected me most profoundly was when the group was meditating silently in a creek.

I’ll never forget that day. The weather was perfect. About 75 degrees with a slight wind. Birds were singing their hearts out and the little fish seemed so happy as they swam around me.

I was truly struggling at that point because of some concerns that had arisen in my family. For a while I could find no peace. But after about 20 minutes, my worries just seemed to float away in the ripples of water.

Simple phrases ran through my mind and eased my soul: “Let it come, let it go. Let it come, let it flow. “

When the meditation was over, I told Frank about my experience.

“All shall be well,” he said, telling me that he was drawing on Julian of Norwich, the medieval mystic whose book, Revelations of Divine Lovehas become popular once again.

Her famous verse was: “All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.”

On the way home I repeated over and over again the words that spoke so deeply to me: Let it come, let it go. Let it come, let it flow. All is well.

The next day I composed a simple tune and wrote it down. I called Frank and sang it to him.

“Absolutely wonderful,” he said.

I have been singing that little chant ever since. And both Frank and I have taught it to many people.

Life seemed perfect for a long time, even after the drawn-out trauma of the flood, but eventually I began to feel lonely. I longed to have a house mate. The days when darkness started to descend at 4 pm became frightening.

I was in psychotherapy and of course I discussed my loneliness with my therapist. We scoured our minds for people I might invite to live with me. I was open to having either a woman or a man. My friend Frank was back in Chicago by this time. But we kept very close contact.

We chatted about living in the same retirement home someday. Frank would organize hymn sings. He would play the piano and I would lead the singing. My parents had done this in later years and I so admired it.

“Doing all of that with Frank would be perfect,” I said to my therapist, “If only I could find someone like Frank.”

My therapist immediately replied, “He is one in a million.”

So I left the office discouraged, thinking I would never find a friend like Frank. But on my way home this thought came to me: If he is one in a million, you better go and live near him. When I got home, I immediately called him and he responded, “I would love to have you come to Chicago. We can get you an apartment in my building.”

I had lived and worked in Chicago for 26 years so it felt like this would be a homecoming of sorts. I discussed this with my son, my bother and many friends. We all worried that I would miss my beautiful home in Binghamton so much that I could not adjust again to city life.

So what I decided to do was rent my house for a year. Then I could come back if that felt right. During that year I missed my gardens a great deal—both my outside garden and inside garden. But when the feelings were intense all I had to do was sing, “Let it come, let it go. Let it come, let it flow. All is well.”

My apartment in Chicago was in the same building as Frank’s. It had huge windows with a southern exposure and immediately I started filling those windows with plants. I mean—lots of plants. About 60 in all. Frank and I began to meditate together twice a day. We ate meals together at least once a day. We started a meditation group with six other people and they became so foundational to my spirituality and later to our friendship. My beloved friend Alyce lived in the city and we spent such wonderful times together. At times I had doubts about selling my house. Of course I would take these to my therapist. But what guided me more than anything was the chant.

“Let it come, let it go, Let if come, let it flow, All is well.”

I later came to realize that the earlier poem I composed about my house has the same theme. It is about letting go and daring to trust in God. The last three stanzas have spoken to me so deeply:

Oh Lord,
Please give me the grace
To own my house
But not let it own me.
To love my house
But hold it loosely.

Oh Lord,
Please give me the grace
To hold lightly
Any place or person
Any thought or feeling.

Oh Lord, please give me the grace
To open my heart
To your abounding love
And abiding rest
And be free!

And Lord,
Please bless my house.

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Look for the next part in Lucille’s series fin our September 6, 2021, issue of ReadTheSpirit magazine.

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Care to take part in Lucille’s September 2021 Zoom?

Just click on this image from Lucille’s Zoom poster, below, and you will see a full PDF of this handbill, which you can download, print, share with friends or post where friends will see it.

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Parenting: Pushing back on the pressures from youth sports

Click this image from the Christian Science Monitor to read Martin Davis’s entire story.

In our We Are Caregiving section, we publish a wide array of stories that are helpful to America’s millions of caregivers, including parents.

This week we are recommending a story for parents by journalist Martin Davis, who specializes in covering the deeper personal dynamics of sports. One of Davis’s stories appears in the current issue of the Christian Science Monitor (CSM), headlined: All play, no fun: Pushing back on the pressures of youth sports.

The CSM editor’s note explains Why We Wrote This: “Amid increasing pressure to treat youth sports like a career, some families and educators are pushing back–demanding playtime be fun again, and offering solutions to make it equitable and affordable.”

Davis reports on “a growing movement to push back on a system that expects children and their parents to treat game time like a career with adult demands and expectations.”

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Care to read more?

ARE YOU INTRIGUED by this column from journalist Martin Davis? Right now, Martin and our editors are completing a book filled with uplifting stories about high school coaches and players nationwide—men and women, black and white, famous and unsung heroes alike.

His book will appear soon in our series of 30 Days With under the title: 30 Days With America’s High School Coaches.

You can follow Martin’s work through his personal website, MartinDavisAuthor.com, which describes his work as an author and editor, as well as his background as a veteran journalist for national publications.

Look around that website and sign up to receive free updates from Martin about new columns and podcasts. You’ll be glad you did!

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Pour a cup of your favorite beverage and enjoy this conversation on Aging Today with Mark Turnbull and David Crumm

Let’s talk about ways to help our caregivers

This podcast may inspire your community

All of us are aging. Right now, more than 50 million Americans are serving everyday as unpaid caregivers for their loved ones.

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Recently, Front Edge Publishing Editor David Crumm talked with podcaster Mark Turnbull about the many ways we can help our family and friends with these challenges. Here’s how Mark starts the podcast:

As we always do, we want to thank caregivers scattered all over the nation. The theme of our show is about aging with all the many options that are placed before us—on your terms. That’s the key—on your terms. We started this podcast four years ago because we felt there was a huge void about the aging process—and it doesn’t matter about your chronological age. This podcast is all about bringing you experts who can help us to navigate the process of aging.

We agree heartily with Mark’s theme here at Front Edge Publishing, which also produces this ReadTheSpirit.com online magazine each week. That’s why our writers focused on strength-based solutions in our new book, Now What? There are chapters of the books that help families solve common problems—as well as chapters that celebrate the new potential and possibilities that we can discover in our later years.

As we age, we encounter challenges—and, if we are looking, we also can discover many gifts.

A TIP FOR LISTENERS: We hope you will hear something in this podcast that will make you smile and nod along with us. You may find a section or two of this podcast that you would like to replay for friends in a class or small group in your community or congregation. The podcast interface can easily be set to start playing at any point in the conversation.

 

Help Us Save Lives by Sharing this Vaccination Advice, including a Lesson from Benjamin Franklin

By BENJAMIN PRATT
Contributing Columnist

JULY 26, 2021—Millions of us are trying to convince friends and neighbors to take the COVID pandemic seriously—and that includes some advice from my own United Methodist denomination as well as some wisdom I’ve gleaned from good old Benjamin Franklin.

Perhaps sharing this column via social media or email might help you convince one more person to take steps that will save lives.

Right now, the extremely transmissible Delta Variant of the coronavirus now makes up more than 80 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. with nearly all deaths occurring in unvaccinated people. Most regions of the country are seeing new waves of infection rising with each passing week.

Many faith groups are stepping up the promotion of vaccinations among adults and emphasizing special efforts to protect children under age 12. My own Virginia United Methodist Conference is giving very specific directives to local congregations. They are as follows:

• Rescheduling re-opening of ministries involving children under the age of 12 or revisiting our mitigation plans.
• Requiring all students, volunteers, staff and visitors to wear a mask over their nose and mouth. According to the CDC guidelines a child over 2 years old should wear a mask.
• Strongly recommend that volunteers be fully vaccinated, and implement screening for each volunteer, before any gatherings.
• Try to use outdoor spaces as much as possible.
• We recommend limiting the consuming of snacks during any event. Individually packed snacks may be shared, after the event, for consumption at home.

To stop the spread of the Delta Variant and avoid the risk of future variants, it is essential that we have everyone vaccinated! Churches have a unique role to help and assist the community in inviting unvaccinated members to receive a vaccine.

We urge churches to encourage vaccination and to protect the unvaccinated population by continuing mitigation measures, such as masking and social distancing.

We have also received advice and wisdom from a grieving Founding Father. Benjamin Franklin wrote the following in his Autobiography, “In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of 4 years old, by smallpox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret, that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

This is footnoted as follows: “Vaccination was not at this time known. By inoculation the smallpox poison was introduced into the arm, and produced a milder form of the disease.”

As a father, grandfather and hopefully a great grandfather, I am deeply grateful when I learn that our faith communities take specific actions to mitigate the plague confronting all of us. I’m also deeply touched to learn of the personal pain and wisdom of one of our founding fathers.

Care to read more?

There’s an in-depth story about Franklin and the smallpox epidemic in Forbes magazine.

‘I am not Alone,’ connecting Latino households with caregiving services

Front Edge Publishing is part of what has now become a nationwide network of journalists who are committed to publishing stories about caregiving solutions that could help communities nationwide.

Recently, the staff at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York, reported on a new program in Southern California that connects caregivers from Latino households with services like respite care, training and support groups in Spanish.

The report says, in part:

The growing need to provide help is shown in a 2020 National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP report. It revealed Hispanic caregivers feel their role gives them a sense of purpose, but they have the fewest caregiving resources and information in comparison to other racial and ethnic groups.

The report also found Hispanic family caregivers are more likely to be in higher intensity situations—meaning they often provide more care—while struggling with lower incomes and often having poor or no health insurance.

The report also explains issues involved in trying to bring such a program to other communities.

 

Music we’ve loved all our lives can help to settle our souls in the end

Learn about the Inspiring Work of Certified Music Practitioners

‘Where words fail, music speaks.’
Hans Christian Andersen

EDITOR’s NOTE: As the worldwide pandemic has risen and fallen in 2021, we are receiving more columns from writers around the world about the challenges of aging, caregiving and the end of life. This week’s story comes from Lori Brady-Neuman, a retired school social worker who has been using her life-long skills, especially her talents as a musician, to bring music to hospice patients. That kind of work by Certified Music Practitioners has been growing nationwide, including at major teaching hospitals. In her story, Lori explains how she got involved in this work, which is distinctly different than the profession of music therapy—and she tells us how her music has touched the lives of families she has met.

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By LORI BRADY-NEUMAN
Contributing Writer

Looking back over the years, I recall that I have known loss and grief in many capacities. My Dad left our home when I was 8. My husband of 20 years left the marriage, and friends of mine have struggled with many loss issues. I realize that I have walked alongside grief in many aspects of my life, so choosing to sing to the dying became the ultimate way of befriending loss.

One set of experiences that led me along the path toward working in hospice was planning and singing at various funerals over the years. I remember a significant funeral in which I sang for a dear friend, Elizabeth who was in her thirties. The night before her death, I was at her hospital bed where we shared memories and prayer and Holy Communion.

Since my hands were both involved in playing the guitar, she reached out for my knee in a desire to touch me. I introduced her to a new piece of music, “The Lights of the City,” which she loved—and then asked me to sing it at the wake, the night before the funeral.

At the memorial service, I shared the story of having sung this song to Elizabeth the night before her death. I shared what she loved about the song, and that she wanted me to sing it as the final song because she wanted her friends and family to leave the service on a happy note. I told this story just before singing it. At the end of the song, no one moved. I walked over to Elizabeth’s mother who shared a comment Elizabeth might have made if she could: “That was really cool.” I quickly returned to the microphone and shared this comment with the mourners who knew those would indeed be her words. A chuckle ensued, and then they were able to let go of their frozen stance. It was an extremely moving moment. I knew then I wanted to sing to people as they left this world.

Certified Music Practitioners: Music for Healing and Transition

I learned from a friend, who knew about my desire to sing to the dying, about the organization, Music for Healing and Transition (MHTP). I applied and was accepted. (If you care to learn more about MHTP’s work and certification of music practitioners, here is a very helpful page you’ll want to read within the MHTP website that answers questions including the distinction between a CMP and a music therapist.)

I completed my training and earned my certification as a Certified Music Practitioner through The Music for Healing and Transition Program. My training included teaching presentations by staff, background on paradigms of healing, required reading, repertoire development along with extensive internship and supervised practicum. I was assigned a mentor and, at the end of the entire process, I took an extensive exam and was required to submit a vocal recording that demonstrated my knowledge of which categories of music to use for patients in situations such as chronically ill, critically ill or actively dying.

Within the overall program, I chose hospice as my practicum. I will never forget an exercise during my hospice training that was focused on the various aspects of “letting go.” One of my assignments was to think of a final person I couldn’t bear to leave. I have three children, and I was asked to choose one child from among the three, as the final person to say “good-bye” to. I can recall quietly crying and not wanting to finish the exercise—but I had to complete this writing assignment as part of my program. Even though it was an exercise in my training, the process still was wrenching. The experience was designed to help me understand a little better the agony that a dying person could be experiencing.

During my training, I also was surprised at the breadth of music I was encouraged to prepare. As I started this process, I had prepared spiritual music, assuming from my own personal preferences that I would want spiritual music during my dying days. However, I quickly learned that we only sing spiritual songs if the patient or family asks for that type of music. This was so startling to me, at first, that I considered leaving the program for a moment.

Then, I began to understand. Not everyone loves spiritual music. For many individuals and families, other kinds of music are far more meaningful. As my trainer explained this, I decided to stay and to broaden my repertoire. I am so glad I made that choice!

My next hurdle was dealing with the question: Do I have enough musical talent? Can I remember the words and chords to all the music I wanted to share? None of this detoured me. I was determined. Eventually, I realized that the music I most commonly play falls into three general groups: spiritual music and hymns; popular and folk songs, especially music like John Denver or traditional tunes like Shenandoah; and then music that actually is new to people but that winds up closely paralleling their journey. While that’s a lot of music, my son has loaded all of my guitar chords and lyrics onto an iPad for me, so my repertoire is very portable now.

One event that vividly stands out occurred during my internship. I had sung to a woman who had COPD. She had been struggling for some time, and was experiencing labored breathing. The nurses indicated she had been trying to let go for several days but just became so anxious and rigid that she couldn’t let the process unfold. Her son asked me to sing to her that day as he was aware that I had done so the day before, and that it had gone well.

The patient was using oxygen. She was breathing extremely hard, so much so that her false teeth had fallen out of her mouth. During my studies I learned the importance of mirroring the patient’s breathing musically as a sign of respect, which is what I did. And then to immediately transition the beat to a normal heartbeat pattern, 60 to 80 beats a minute. Her breathing entrained to my normal heartbeat and then her process of letting go began. While sharing music with her, her breathing diminished to 30 breaths a minute, to 20 breaths a minute, then 10, then her actual last breath. I followed her until there was no breath at all. Her son and her sister who came from Australia were in the room. Her son was holding her hand.

During the final 5 to 10 minutes, I was playing arrhymic music, often just a chord, or I plucked a string, no singing, only following her breath. It was a gentle, slow letting go that her body was trying to achieve. As an intern, the whole event was scary and awesome at the same moment. It was amazing to be able to help the patient unbind in her own time and manner and as she was ready.

The Benefits of Music for Patients

Live therapeutic music at the bedside has been shown to reduce a patient’s anxiety, fear, pain, anticipatory grief and restlessness and offer them a sense of calm, comfort and peace.

In doing a little research for this article, I found a log, which we were required to submit to our mentor and supervisor after visiting with each patient. It references a COPD patient, age 90, who had declined all medications, even Tylenol. This is the first time I had been with a patient who was suffering so. I felt enormously helpless. At one point I thought she didn’t want music, but a nurse came in and said to share the music anyway. She needed water and I summoned the hospice nurse for that.

At one point she started moaning: “Please save my soul.”

I responded by singing those words in a chant-like melody that I improvised. It seemed like she responded favorably to this. She definitely wanted me to sing and play. She was hallucinating, however, most of the time, so it was difficult to tell. I also sang a song and inserted her name in it. She noticed even though she was hard of hearing. I spent a long time with this patient trying to see what was right for her and trying to help her relax and
hopefully she would be able to sleep. When I was ready to leave her room, she seemed more relaxed, and even had closed her eyes.

I am reminded of another vignette of a family that I had been allowed to accompany on his final journey. I was  singing to a man in his seventies. He was pretty alert. His daughter was in the room with us. I started to sing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” I invited the patient and his daughter to join if they wished. The patient, who died the following week, chose to sing with me. His daughter grabbed her smart phone and video taped the moment. It was truly special.

A week later, I received a call from the daughter letting me know her father had died and wanted my permission to show the video at his memorial service. I said: Yes, of course. It was well received and exactly what the family wanted.

Over the years, I have discovered that presence is more of a gift than musical excellence. I now understand this important gift. I experience the importance of presence every day that I volunteer at Capital Caring, Adler Center, in Aldie, Virginia, one day a week for the past 6 years.

Creating a healing environment through music

My goal as a music practitioner is to create a healing environment, a musical massage if you will. My ultimate goal is to help a person in transition as they unbind. The reason live music is more effective than recorded music is that the musician is able to make adjustments during the session depending on the patient’s mood, condition and breath.

Therapeutic music during the dying process is very effective at regulating breathing (as the person goes through the transitional stages of breathing until there is no breath), supporting relaxation, diminishing fear and anxiety, bringing family and loved ones closer together as they sit vigil, and adding a potent spiritual dimension to the event, regardless of religious affiliation. Music can help people relax and the voice can communicate a sense of healing and comfort. Since music is pure vibration, whether it’s from my voice or my guitar, it affects the body inside and out, mind and spirit.

I also find that the music has the potential of reducing feelings of isolation and fear. Music has the power to bring a fullness that words alone can’t create. I have seen the power of music reach deep inside of family members as they transform experiences of suffering into meaning.

I am also aware that the simple act of a stranger holding guitar and offering to share music, I am telling the person and family that someone is willing to sit with them for 30 to 60 minutes and share in their sorrow and feelings of loss. I am always aware that, even if the family chooses not to have me sing, they are always grateful that I offered to sing.

Before I begin each visit at Adler, I center myself. I ask God to work through me to help bring a sense of peace, comfort and calm. My intent is to be of service, not to entertain. I
am humbled and privileged to do this meaningful work. I often feel that I receive a greater gift than I give. While some Certified Music Practitioners are paid, I do all my work as a volunteer.

We play our music for those suffering with pain, anxiety and dementia to bring them comfort and a sense of belonging. The music can help release fears and attachments. It can provide us with beauty, warmth, light and hints that we are not alone. Music can help relieve stress and tension.

We also play our music for the dying because of our love and appreciation for life. The music provides a voice for this love. It is our hope that the music can accompany and journey with the person who is dying to ease their fears and surround them with a sense of beauty and blessing. The music conveys a sense of serenity and consolation that can be profoundly soothing.

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Care to read more?

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

A dozen writers from around the world came together to create a resource for families who suddenly discover they are facing aging issues—and immediately need a helpful orientation to the new challenges opening up around them.

It’s called Now What? A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of Aging.

Co-sponsored by a long list of nonprofit groups that work with aging Americans, this new resource book has chapters on issues that include:

  • Successful aging in place, which includes making our homes safe for us as we encounter physical changes.
  • Tips for smart dressing and accessories to make life easier.
  • Tips for new careers and also meaningful service we can provide to our communities as we age.
  • An introduction to services including financial planning and hospice.

“An amazing feature of this volume is its ability to address both caregivers and those in need of support, fellowship and aid to improve quality of life,” Robert J. Wicks, the author of many books about resilience, writes about this new book. “You will be so much better prepared to live a full life more sagely and enjoyably with less unnecessary worry, and guide others in the process as well.”