Journey Into Wholeness
Music has always been an important part of my life, and I knew in an abstract term that there was something magical about music. But I didn’t fully understand the power of music until I began working as a music therapy intern at hospice.
One of my first assignments was to work with a man whom we call Herb. He was a former jazz singer who was suffering from the end stage of dementia. For a few months I visited him in a crowded nursing home once a week. Herb was often irritable and restless, making it difficult for anyone to communicate with him; however, he was still able to remember the songs from his past. When I sang old tunes, such as “What A Wonderful World” on a guitar, Herb would calm down, smile, and clap his hands. Through music we were able to make a meaningful connection. That itself was a miracle, but what followed was even more unexpected.
One day Herb sang a song for me for the first time, even though he had always refused to do so by saying, “I can’t sing any more.” As he sang a slow jazz song in his low voice, I saw him for who he really was – a jazz singer, a husband, a father, a navy veteran, and above all a kind man. Beyond the terrible disease, there was a whole person.
Two days later Herb died rather suddenly. This came as a shock to his family and hospice staff including myself. We were sadden by his death but found peace in knowing that he was himself again even for a brief moment during his last music therapy session.
Music is a dynamic force through which we can connect with people without words. Herb was my first patient who taught me the power of music, a memorable person whose story inspired me to begin writing down my observations and thoughts about living and dying.
Sato, Y (2009). The Last Song. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy.