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Music at the End of Life

September 5, 2010

Music at the End of Life:  Easing the Pain and Preparing the  PassageHave you known someone who died a good death?  The dying process can be a stage of growth in a human life, full of lessons and value – and even healing – amid its loss.  Akin to birth, this transition calls for  attentive midwifery, honoring the changes of consciousness and fluctuating physical, emotional and spiritual needs that present themselves for resolution. Music thanatology is a very specific form of music therapy aimed at dying patients and their families.  Harp and voice are the instruments a music thanatologist uses to create therapeutic space, carefully tailored to physiological needs of the dying person (matching and encouraging a slower rate of breathing and pain resolution, for example) or to psychological and expressive needs of the people present (one story:  giving a father the pulse that pulls him further into physically expressing his grieving for his dying daughter, matched to his tentative arm stroking…  while offering the mother, who is still in her head and not wanting yet to dive into her more primitive emotions, a melody to hang her thoughts on).   The music thanatologist offers presence and intuitive attention above all.  A therapy that operates without a narrative can reach spaces inside people where words cannot – it can offer some sense-making of a process that has scrambled the normal human perceptions, and can offer people the gift of space to grieve and connect without words. Jennifer Hollis, a Missoula friend from years back, has written a beautiful book about the vocation of music thanatology, full of memorable stories from her intensive research and varied interviews.  It is a broad look at the state of the profession today and how people find themselves entering it, along with many narratives of direct experience and of changes the sessions have brought for the patients and families and caregivers.  More than a few people will feel themselves called into the work after finding this book.  Hospices and hospitals nationwide should use a copy.  Anyone who works with end of life issues, or who is facing the approaching death of a loved one, will find support from these life-affirming stories of dying where people were offered a space of peace, meaning, comfort and dignity through music. If any of this information resonates with you, consider buying and enjoying the book and passing it on to a hospice or hospital administrator near you.  Or to a young idealist looking for her vocation.  End of life care is experiencing a revolution long in coming, and you can help spread the word. Music at the End of Life:  Easing the Pain and Preparing the Passage can be ordered online through an independent bookstore and can be found at Amazon.  Jennifer Hollis is president of the Music-Thanatology Association International.  Her website is Harp Lady in the Hospital:  Exploring Music, Writing, Faith and End of Life Care.

For a look into the experience of crossing over itself, Dance Through It  is a story of near death experience and the subsequent dramatic changes in consciousness.    You will never fear death again.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Traci Rackley permalink
    October 22, 2010 8:38 pm

    Okay – where are you guys??? I keep up with you on your blogspot, and I haven’t heard a peep (or read a peep) since Sept. 5. 🙂 Hope you all are well and doing great. We’re fine here…just working, working, schooling, schooling (and trying not to go a little crazy).

    Take care!
    Traci Rackley and crew

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