Integrating music with the care of the dying is becoming more common in hospice and palliative care programs. Because music reaches a deep, non-rational part of us, it can calm fears, normalize breathing and stir comforting memories for the dying person.
Despite the fact that patients usually become non-verbal at the end of life, hearing is often the last sense to go. If difficult feelings like grief or anxiety or sorrow are blocking a person from relaxing into the death process, music can soften these struggles and help a person feel more peaceful. Music can shift the energy in a room, and in a person. There are many ways to bring in music as a comforting tool.
Play recordings of favorite musicians and songs. If patient is not communicative, watch for non-verbal signs of relaxation or irritation. Play the music that is calming. It is helpful to have some discussion about music with the patient before the end draws near, to learn what the patient really loves.
Thanatology is the study of the medical, psychological and sociological aspects of dying. Music thanatology focuses on using music to help patients in a holistic way, with all these aspects. This study has gained regard as the benefits have proven so effective for so many at the end of life. An excellent website about Music thanatology is www.chaliceofrepose.org
Gentle music played at the bedside is usually well received, particularly harp or voice, or Native American flute.
The Threshold Choir of Southern Oregon is a group of local women who come to sing at the bedside of patients as a free offering of healing service. Their website is www.thresholdchoirso.org
Rev. Anne Bartlett of Trinity Episcopal Church in Ashland eloquently talks about the "thin veil" separating the here and the hereafter-indeed at the end of life the veil becomes very thin. Vibrations in music (harp or soft voices) accompany the dying as they begin to go. A favorite Threshold songs with words by Jack Kornfield goes like this "In the end what matters most is how well have I lived, how well have I loved, how well have I learned to let go."
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