In this first in our series of blogs about complementary therapies and palliative care,
Bev Foster, Executive Director of the Room 217 Foundation, explains why music is so important at the end of life.
Music is cross-coded into the events of our lives. It accompanies us through life passages and may be most powerful at end of life. The capacity it has to connect, communicate and companion makes music a peaceful presence for persons who are imminently dying and for their loved ones and care providers.
Here are five reasons ways music provides support at end of life.
- Music assists relationship completion. Songs with lyrics voice the words we want and need to express at end of life, like words of gratitude, love, forgiveness and farewell. Verbal communication may be compromised because of meds, cognitive decline, emotional overload and simply not knowing what to say or how to say it. In these instances, songs can speak our words for us, song lyrics like “I will remember you”, “Whisper words of wisdom, let it be”, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero”?
- Music helps with pain. Research emphasizes that music is an important adjunct for pain management and can be an effective distraction by shifting our focus and attention from perception of pain to something more pleasurable. Music can also reduce anxiety associated with pain.
- Music is reminiscent. Remembering life through the songs we have loved and lived, helps to diarize legacy. Kenneth Bruscia says: “Songs are our connections to life…they bring us closer to others; they keep us company when we are alone. They articulate our beliefs and reaffirm our values… our songs bear witness to our lives and give voice to our experiences…Songs weave tales of our joys and sorrows, our dreams and disappointments, our fears and triumphs. They are our musical diaries, our life stories.”
- Music provides comfort. Music has the capacity to reach into all human domains and soothe souls that are suffering loss and looking to resolve some of life’s deepest questions. Songs that have personal meaning may provide encouragement, peace, and a sense of letting go, may ease caregiver burden and assist with death acceptance.
- Music as backdrop. In the end of life context, music becomes an aesthetic support for what is happening. Music may provide a gracefully quiet space, a place for reflection or celebration, an accompaniment for intimate moments. Providing a beautiful soundscape helps to acknowledge the gentle meeting of life and death.
Bev Foster, MA, ARCT, AMus, is Executive Director of the Room 217 Foundation, a social enterprise dedicated to care through music. Room 217 music collections are used in palliative and end of life care across Canada and beyond. For more information on Room 217, visit www.room217.ca.