Yumiko Sato Music Therapy

Journey Into Wholeness

Music in the moment of death

yellow roseIn the last post, “Hearing is the last sense to go,” I wrote about a non-responsive patient who demonstrated her awareness of sounds during her music therapy session.  Since then I’ve received messages from the readers who had had a similar experience.  Thank you for sharing your stories with me.  I now feel even more keenly that this phenomena is universal and natural.

The first person who showed me that dying persons can hear until the very end was a patient named Teresa.  Her story is unforgettable to me because of the way she died.

It was a week before Christmas when a nurse informed me of a new patient, Teresa, an 80 year-old woman.

“She is actively dying,” said the nurse.  When a person is showing signs of imminent death, she/he is considered “actively dying.”  But no one can predict when death occurs, so this “waiting period” can be excruciating for loved ones.

“Her family has been keeping vigil for the last few days.  I think they’ll benefit from music therapy.” The nurse said.

Upon entering the room, I was greeted by Teresa’s son, daughter, and grandson, who were quietly sitting at the bedside, looking exhausted.  Teresa seemed comfortable, lying in bed with her eyes closed.  I introduced myself to the family and explained my role as a music therapist.  As I offered my service, they looked hesitant at first, but the son who introduced himself as Bill said,

“Mom always liked Broadway musicals, so it may be good to have music.”

I sat down at the bedside and began by playing “Edelweiss,” a song from “The Sound of Music,” while Bill held Teresa’s hand.  The daughter and the grandson were in tears.

After the song the family began sharing their pleasant memories of Teresa: She loved going to the musicals; she was a great mother and grandmother.

Bill said, “I thought she was going to die this morning, but she is still hanging on. We’re ready for her to go.”

I was moved by the family’s openness to share their love for Teresa and their courage to say good-bye to her.  She was surrounded by love, and it sounded that she had had a wonderful life.  Perhaps that was why she looked so calm and content.

Knowing that Teresa was Catholic, I asked the family if she had a favorite Christmas song.  They said “Silent Night” was her favorite, so I sang it with guitar accompaniment.

Bill sat beside Teresa and held her hand. During the song Teresa’s breathing slowed, and towards the end of the song, her eyes gradually opened up.  She took a large breath on the final note of the song.

“Oh my God.  She just died.” Bill said.  Her death was so peaceful that I wouldn’t have noticed it, had he not said those words.  Teresa’s face was calm and restful, and her body lied there quietly during the entire time.  The only thing that indicated her death was the lack of breathing.

The family hugged each other, cried, and said their good-byes.  It was a very tender and special moment which I felt privileged to be a part of.

Later the day Bill came up to me and said, “It was probably the most beautiful moment in my life to have my mom pass in such a peaceful way.  It was a fitting moment for her because she was a great lady.”

Teresa was the first person to show me that dying persons could hear.  Perhaps it was music and the presence of the family that gave Teresa permission to let go.

10 comments on “Music in the moment of death

  1. unityhospicedogblog
    November 20, 2013

    We think this is incredible that you are able to connect with patients through music. Our hospice organization provides music therapy, as well as pet therapy, to reach the same goal. We truly believe that although patients may be unresponsive, they are fully aware of their sense of surrounding. Keep up the music therapy…you’re doing a great service to those patients.

    • Yumi
      November 21, 2013

      Thank you so much for your comment. The hospice I used to work at also had pet therapy among other holistic therapies. Animals provide great comfort to those at hospice including staff. Thank you for the wonderful work you’re doing.

  2. Teal Ashes
    November 21, 2013

    What a bittersweet but beautiful experience. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Yumi
      November 21, 2013

      Thank you for your comment, Teal. I enjoyed your article on how to help bereaved children and am looking forward to reading your blog!

  3. Pingback: Hearing is the last sense to go | Yumiko Sato Music Therapy

  4. gpcox
    December 6, 2013

    You give a wonderful service to a person’s final moments.

    • Yumi
      December 9, 2013

      Thank you for visiting my site!

  5. Liz
    October 7, 2014

    Really beautiful! Thank you for your posts!

    • Yumi
      October 7, 2014

      Thank you for your comment, Liz!

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