Here we are, the first official work week of 2017 and for many, it’s an exciting time filled with hope and anticipation for a new and better year. However, millions facing end of life or grief say “not so fast” about making resolutions and plans […]
Category: Professional Support
It is often in our darkest hour when grief has cracked us open, that we find access to the purest creative voice with us. Through the gift of art, music, and all creative expression we can begin to address the deep spiraling waves of feeling […]
Music has the power to walk alongside people throughout their life journeys. Many important episodes of our lives can be immortalized in the songs that were significant to us during those times. For many people, music can be a means of expressing the sublime and inexplicable feelings and impressions that make up their lives.
In grief, so much of what we experience feels impossible to describe. We cannot find words to pin down our despair. It can feel that no amount of crying will exorcize the sheer agony of loss. While we may take comfort in bereavement theories that tell us about stages of our grief, there is rarely any sense of order in our grieving process. There is no set timeline on how to grieve, and “closure” can often hang as an unrealistic expectation.
Music cannot make our grief go away.
But it can meet us in the chaos of it.
At the heart of quality music therapy programs are a few simple principles:
- Music is a human phenomenon that accompanies people in their lives, regardless of their training, background, or knowledge
- Music is an evidence-based, non-pharmacological intervention that can assist with symptom management and address psycho-social concerns in the end of life
- With some simple training and awareness, music is something all people can use to enhance their caring relationships
None of this is rocket-science. And yet science should back up every one of the outstanding music therapy programs that exist today.
Music and music therapy is a well-researched modality for effective end-of-life care. Deborah Salmon (2001) has shown how music can provide psychodynamic holding container for transforming suffering into meaning in a therapeutic relationship. Amy Clements-Cortes (2009) has shown how music therapy can be used to facilitate five stages of relationship- completion with dying patients and their families. And countless studies (Curtis, 1986, Krout, 2001, Magill, 2001) have demonstrated evidence of music therapy in managing pain.
But as much as we support the use of music in clinical palliative care, music can be a vital way to accompany people on their grief.
If you are walking a grief journey, I invite you to ask: what are songs that can accompany you through this journey? Make playlists.
There is no right way, or clear way, through grief,
but music can be a lighthouse through it all.
Can you make a playlist of songs that express your anger over a loss, or that say “I love you” to the person you can no longer speak to? Can you create a playlist with a dying person that reflects significant seasons in their lives? Can you create playlists with families that help them say goodbye to one another? Let the music speak what words cannot.
If you are a palliative care provider, whatever your caring relationship, we believe music can strengthen what you do. Here are three simple tips for integrating music into your palliative care relationships.
1. Ask the question: what is a song that has been meaningful in your life? Most people don’t have a single “favorite song.” Asking someone about a song that has been meaningful in their lives invites conversation, connection, intimacy and closeness. Quickly looking up a song on your phone and listening to it together can be a fast, effective, and profound way of quickly developing a rapport with someone.
2. Sing. Singing does not have to be “good” or “trained” for it to be an effective caregiving tool. Parents sing to their infants intuitively. See what it feels like to hum a little bit while making your way through your day, or to sing even just a single line of something special with a person you care for. The imperfection of singing only makes it more human. Embrace it and the relationship will likely strengthen for it.
3. Offer music. If someone is dying, or in distress, offer them recorded music. When in doubt pick something gentle, but always let the person decide whenever possible what they would like to listen to. A simple CD player that you can plug into a wall, along with four or five CDs, should be standard resources at any nursing station, palliative care unit or hospice. The presence of music can provide instant comfort in these critical life moments.
Again, none of this is rocket-science, and yet it can be so meaningful. Music can walk alongside people throughout their life journeys – and can walk along side them in their grief.
By: Sarah Pearson, Music Therapist, Oncology & Palliative Care
Program Development Coordinator, Room 217 Foundation
Modern hospice care began in the 1960’s as a response to the over-medicalization of dying in the West. From its inception, the needs of the family were a key component. The patient and family are the unit of care, not the patient alone as is […]
The thought of describing one’s journey of grief as “grace” seems unsettling, if not impossible. Grace, after all, is typically defined as elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion or action – or in many religious traditions as mercy, clemency or pardon. How in the […]
I had just met with a father whose deceased son’s birthday had been the day before. I knew synchronicity, my life path, passion and the arduous, amazing walk with losing a child myself, would connect us so that I could share the following message.
Transforming loss into healing is a difficult path, but healing is possible if someone chooses to consciously grieve, act, and honor their own grief process. Life will have the opportunity to seep back into a place that seemed so lonely and dark. I know the excruciating anguish of loss as my own life story includes a window of time in which I experienced miscarriage, my brother’s death in a commercial fishing accident, my wife’s death from cancer, and then my six and nine-year-old daughters’ and mother-in-law’s deaths in a single car accident. The years between 1986 through 1996 were filled with a level of compounded and complicated grief that left me shattered and emotionally stripped with very little motivation to move forward in life. With gratitude, I can honestly state that today, more than any other time in my life, I feel authentic, joyful, spiritually connected, self-realized, grateful and deeply passionate about healing from loss and living life to its fullest. I’m grateful for my life and yet, that does not mean that I don’t continuously grieve and honor my losses, especially the death of my children. I am very aware that grief does not make everything “okay.” However, grief can change and transform into the fuel needed to drive one forward toward growth. The lyrics from the song, “There’s Still My Joy” capture the healing I feel inside myself each and every day. I celebrate my daughters’ lives and they live on inside of me– like the sparkle on the snow as the first sunlight ricochets off that perfectly formed crystal. It warms my heart.
Today I am a minister, licensed psychotherapist, certified grief counselor, and licensed school teacher. I’m also a person who still grieves, lives, and honors my life, as well as the lives of my loved ones who died before me.
While writing this article, I’m reflecting back to a time following the deaths of my daughters. If someone had said to me then, that I would find joy in any form, ever again, I would have scoffed in disbelief. However, I’ve found I can indeed feel joy and pleasure as well as sadness and longing all at the same time. This balance is my dance and I am grateful for all the shining lights that beam down upon my path helping to direct my next step. In fact, research backs up this possibility for all of us by sharing that certain coping behaviors can assist with the balancing of our past, present, and future lives.
Six themes have been identified that appear to positively impact the emotional healing from the loss of a child. These are: positive beliefs, faith beliefs, everlasting love, pleasant memories, social engagement and staying connected (Barker & Dunn, 2011). Barker and Dunn (2011) focused their research on mothers whose children had died suddenly. They discovered a congruency within these themes pertaining to the mothers.
The following information expands on the six themes: (1) Positive Beliefs: People have a “need to connect” in order to share memories and to be around others. This gives a feeling of calm and peace, as does avoiding activities and people that have the potential for negativity. (2) Faith Beliefs: This is a helpful level of connection to a God of their understanding – which allows a level of connection to their child, as well as with something bigger than them. (3) Everlasting Love: The fear that the love for the child may end decreases as love continues to grow for the child. This allows great relief as the relationship transforms but the love and relationship with the child is forever. (4) Pleasant Remembrances: Having the opportunity to share pleasant memories and stories helps as a coping mechanism. It’s helpful to celebrate their lives and those pleasant experiences as they help nurture the heart. (5) Social Engagement: At some point there is a feeling to reach out in some way — to explore how their experience can be of benefit to someone new in the grief process. There is also a need to stay in contact with the child’s friends and family, thus allowing a connection to the past and their child. (6) Staying Connected: Over time, parents will find a way to stay emotionally connected to their child. This can include special activities such honoring the child’s birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. These types of activities provide present action and new experiences to happen, thus building upon the parental/child relationship throughout one’s life.
Barker and Dunn (2011) found two themes that were not productive. These are: (1) Avoidance: When people completely avoided the parent or avoided talking about the child. This felt hurtful. (2) Rumination: Dwelling on the actual event in which there was death or anything negative pertaining to the death that did not serve the parent positively (Barker & Dunn, 2011). Grief allows for someone’s life to regain meaning. It does not always include a conclusive answer for the meaning of the death of a child. The question of “why me?” is one that arises approximately 80% of the time from people experiencing a traumatic situation. This craving for understanding the “why” is natural and normal. Not all people resolve the “why” of the death, but the transformation of one’s life to include meaning can be the larger focus in someone’s healing and growth (Davis, Wortman, Lehman, & Silver, 2000). Consciously grieving and observing the healing process can allow for meaning, passion, and reason to grow. It helps to feel the emotions, thus manifesting a meaningful life.
In closing, it’s important to remember grief is a natural and normal healing process and through conscious actions, a person can claim themselves while no longer being confined and defined by his or her story.
Barker, B., & Dunn, K. (2011). The continued lived experience of the unexpected death of a child. Omega-Journal of Death and Dying, 63(3), 221-233. Retrieved from https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edswss&AN=000294731800002&site=eds-live&scope=site
Davis, C. G., Wortman, C. B., Lehman, D. R., & Silver, R. C. (2000). Searching for meaning in loss: Are clinical assumptions correct? Death Studies, 24(6), 497-540. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07481180050121471
Poteat, C., & Wiard, T. (2011). Witnessing Ted: The journey to potential through grief and loss. : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
By: Rev. Ted Wiard
Psychotherapist, Founder Golden Willow Retreat
“Disconnecting from the part of self carrying our emotional pain is a recipe for creating a ‘soul injury’,” says hospice nurse Pat McGuire. She would know. She took care of more than 10,000 dying veterans in her 20-year career at the VA. “Dying, combat veterans […]
It is hard to watch anyone suffer, especially those we love and especially children. When children suffer, we want to make it stop. Grief following the death of an important person in the life of a child is a particular kind of suffering that we […]