‘Sometimes music can speak to us, offering comfort and peace when words fail.’ (Source)
A small group of singers, including the author of this article, files quietly into the room of a woman spending her last earthly days in a rural hospice residence. She is alert, and has agreed, along with her visiting daughter, to have the bedside singers come. We’ve been with this individual before. We have learned she loves old hymns. Today, we offer up songs such as In the Garden and How Great Thou Art.
Suddenly, the woman remembers a hymn from her childhood. It is not in our books, however some of us are familiar with it, and begin to sing, “Oh come, come, come, come, come to the church in the wildwood…” The woman smiles and weakly sings along; her daughter joins in too. After a couple more songs, we leave the room, quietly singing "We are all just walking each other home.”
This is a bedside sing. Every sing is different. Every person in the group, called Solace, is different. Each recipient of the music responds in a unique way. The task of Solace Bedside Singers is to offer calming space, time, and acceptance of the reality being lived. We accept that life is fleeting, that death is sometimes imminent. Often, our songs are a vehicle for the expression of the words impossible to speak between two loved ones.
My research, officially titled Encompassing Dying, Embracing Living, examines how the singers have been personally impacted by engaging in this work:
The members of Solace and myself have personally experienced positive outcomes from engaging in bedside singing. Most research captures the role of music therapy and professional music therapists in working with populations in hospice or palliative care. However, the experiences of volunteer singers are often overlooked in the larger category of hospice volunteers. I hope to capture the first-hand experiences of singers to provide evidence for the impact of this work on the singers and to enrich what we know about the role of bedside singing in palliative care.
Deb Shelley (she/her), is passionate about the value of music in our lives, offering leadership to various community vocal groups over many years. Most recently, her areas of focus and learning have centred around the aging population and those who are facing death, and how music can help. Her current research investigates the lives of those who choose to sing at the bedside of someone who is dying. She explores what motivates these singers, and what keeps them singing.
Deb’s background includes the Certificate in Loss, Grief and Bereavement Studies from King’s University College (UWO), hospice volunteer work, and her current studies in the Master of Arts in Community Music at Laurier. These provide the impetus behind her research.
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