Monday, September 7, 2009

Music at the threshold

I once heard that people aren't afraid of death, they're afraid of going through the process of dying alone. Once upon a time birth and death were events where the community gathered round. What has changed?

Luckily, I don't have to answer why we've moved away from a community centered society and I can be part of a caring community who surround loved ones at important life stages. I am honored to be a member of a hospice choir in my metro area called Morning Star Singers. At the request of families we send a small handful of volunteers to sing songs of comfort to those nearing the end of this life.

This weekend we sang twice for Shirley. The first time we sang for her she was curled up with her back to the window and clenched fists. Her family was there with her. Our first song was about Holy Angels that were holding her. By the end of the song, her breathing was deeper. We sang 5 or 6 more songs and by the last of them she was gently snoring. Ah, peace.

Another group went to her bedside the next day and it was amazing to see the change from one day to the next. She was lying spread out on the bed with her hands relaxed and open. This was surprising to me as her family was not there. Even in her sleep she looked ready for the next step, whatever that was. Her breathing was steady. She didn't acknowledge our presence consciously, but I think she knew we were there - her upper lip flicked a few times. It may be inconsequential, but I took it as a "thank you."

What happened in 24 hours to affect this change? I don't think the songs in and of themselves did it, but together with a loving family surrounding her Shirley was getting herself ready.

Some of the songs we sang were Holy Angels (first line: you are held by ...), There are angels hovering round, Surrounding you, Children of the Heavenly Father, Sleep my child, Swing low, Like a ship in the harbor, and We cannot follow you. These songs are essentially lullabies. Sung softly and gently like a parent lulling a child from wakefulness to sleep we ease some of the anxiety and fear of dying with our presence.

I'm interested in collecting more songs that could be used at bedsides. Do know some? Contact me at pointsoflightmusic@gmail.com.

Blessings on your labors and your rest.

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