Monday, August 7, 2017

All Other Ground is Sinking Sand

This week, I had the honor of visiting with a music therapist, Georgia, from Seasons Hospice in Columbia, MD.  I came away with a renewed belief in the value of hospice, and the important role that music therapy can play in an interdisciplinary team.  I was also deeply moved by the connection and spirituality that I witnessed during my visit.  As a musician, I believe in the power of music to transcend words and connect people; yesterday, my faith in music, hospice and people was reaffirmed.

I have been disabused of any notion that music therapy is simply about strumming a guitar.  In the hands of a skilled music therapist like Seasons’ Georgia, the guitar and voice are spiritual and deeply connected tools that can be extremely meaningful to a patient that is in pain, or family that is in need of healing.

Georgia, her colleague Anne and I visited two patients at one of Seasons’ inpatient unit.  One, Ms. A, requested Johnny Cash songs initially.  I sang along to “I Walk the Line” and a few others.  We then learned from Ms. A’s nephew that she led a church chorus for 50 years.  The songs shifted to spirituals. As Georgia strummed the guitar, Ms. A confided that she was ready to go, ready to relieve the burden on her family.

Ms. A was sure that she was ready, but she did have a song request, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” I hadn’t heard this song before, but I was so moved to see and hear Georgia and Ms. A harmonize beautifully, with Ms. A repeating the last line—“All other ground is sinking sand”—twice.  Ms. A sang these lines with a certainty and conviction.  We all knew, somehow, that Ms. A would soon die.  As I leaned in to speak with Ms. A, she asked me why I didn’t sing with her.  I told her that I didn’t want to mess up her beautiful two part harmony.  She smiled, as if she knew that I didn’t really know the words.

Two hours later Anne and Georgia let me know that Ms. A died.

I was so moved by this experience, and so aware that this experience plays itself out every day in countless rooms and homes across the nation.  Music therapists—and all members of the hospice interdisciplinary team—help provide peace to patients and families at the end of life.  As President and CEO of NHPCO, I stand on the solid foundation that our professionals provide each and every day.  Thank you to Georgia, Anne, and all of our amazing hospice and palliative care teams.   

By Edo Banach, JD
President and CEO

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