We have a contract with a hospital in our city to provide bedside music therapy for patients on palliative care as well as recovering from illness or surgery. We are referred by the chaplains on the spiritual care staff or by RNs in each wing.

A patient who had just been placed on palliative measures (when curative treatments are discontinued in favor of keeping the patient comfortable and symptoms managed) and his family asked for music therapy services, so I was happy to visit.

The patient was “transitioning,” which is hospice language for the time before the patient’s active dying phase. This phase is characterized by increased withdrawal from social interaction, increased sleep, decreased food/liquid intake, beginning to have periods of apnea and other signs. He appeared to be sleeping peacefully and 5 or 6 family members had gathered in the chairs and window seat of his room.

The family asked for old hymns, and as a music therapist I have plenty of those in my head, so I sang a medley of tunes, including “How Great Thou Art,” “Softly and Tenderly,” “Abide with Me,” and “May God Be With You Til We Meet Again.” The family wept, laughed, smiled and shared stories of their loved one as I listened and asked to hear their favorite stories about him.

I always speak to a patient even though it may look as though he or she can’t hear me. The amazing hospice RNs, LPNs and CNAs I have worked with assured me that the sense of hearing is believed to be the last to shut down as the patient passes, so I said to the patient, “It was nice to meet you and share music with you and your family today. I hope you enjoyed it.” At that moment, to the surprise of all of us in the room, the patient opened his eyes and said, “I loved every minute!”

I left the room about 30 minutes later to visit other patients, but heard later from one of the chaplains that the family was so touched that the hospital would provide music therapy services, they expected to see angel wings on my back as I walked away from the room. Well, I can assure you I am no angel, but it was great to hear the music had touched the family and the patient in a profound way and the patient’s sacred space had been honored.

It is a privilege to do this work . . .