Today, I had the great honor and sorrow to say goodbye to an amazing woman. It was an honor because I was asked to play a large role in her funeral service in order to help the service communicate this woman’s true spirit. It was a great sorrow because, although I only saw her for approximately 50 days (once a week for about a year), I feel that I came to know the true essence of this woman through her music.
As someone who works in hospice, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve heard variations of the following phrases:
I don’t know how you do it
I wouldn’t be able to handle that much sadness all the time
You must be a really strong person to deal with all that death all the time
I can’t speak for all my hospice colleagues, but I feel pretty safe in saying a vast majority of hospice workers don’t feel like they have some sort of superpower bestowed on them. Rather, we are caring people just trying to do the best job we can.
As a hospice music therapist, I can tell you without a single shred of doubt that the joyful, memory-making, laughter-filled times in our work far outweigh the sadness inherent in hospice. While today was a very emotionally difficult day, the joy that was shared between this woman and her family while I was there, sharing music with them, far surpasses any difficult emotions I may feel in saying goodbye. This woman’s family frequently told me how much they appreciated my visits and how much I brought to them through my music therapy services. However, this woman and her family were another reminder to me that, while we provide others a valuable service, I always walk away changed as well.
I never knew what kind of situation I would be walking in to when I would visit this woman, as we frequently don’t in hospice work as a patient can suddenly and without warning take a turn for the worse. However, I was always certain that, no matter what was going on physically, we were always going to rejoice in the beauty of each other through music. We always started her visits with the same hymn because it was her favorite, but looking back, it feels even more appropriate now. Yes, every day, “what a day of rejoicing that will be!”
That is what hospice music therapy is really about.