"Come back in a few, there are some things going on," the nurse told me. I came to play harp for two people at the hospice house and both were busy. Soon the door opened to one of the rooms, where I met an elderly gentleman in his bed, with his wife in attendance. She wasn't too sure about this harp business, thinking perhaps that I was an entertainer. The nurse pitched in, saying, "Morphine and music are a great combo and will surely help your husband relax." She relented and invited me in. I played quietly for about 30 minutes. Her husband did relax, with a few moments of agitation mixed in. He had lost coherence. His wife did not understand what he needed anymore. She never uncrossed her arms during my visit and the tension in the room felt high. I could see she was scared and unsure. I caught her eye a few times and nodded my understanding, as much as I can understand another's pain. She began to cry a bit as I played. A friend came in to visit and conversation was a bit loud and revolved around what was happening and what it meant. But this did not bother our patient. Eventually I packed it in and the wife did thank me. Perhaps I was able to create a small measure of peace and crack the door open to acceptance.
The next room housed a woman in maybe her 50's. The door was flung open to the balmy June breeze and the view of the restful grounds. An aromatherapy mister puffed away and a friend was finishing up an essential oil treatment. Wind chimes belled quietly. Fresh fruit was on the bed table. "I love harp; it is magic music," she told me. I had been trying to get to her bedside for a week. I began to play and she promptly shut her eyes and a smile spread across her face. Her friend was busy with her phone for a bit. She eventually put it away and fell asleep on the sofa. As I played to the napping women, a sense of timelessness and deep peace drifted in. The atmosphere felt ancient. I played until my back said no more. The patient came to and thanked me and invited me back, again sharing her love of the harp. Her friend continued to snooze.
How people experience death and what I am invited in to share never fails to touch my heart. I am so blessed to be able to play for people in these situations.
"We have an actively dying patient requesting harp music," said the hospice volunteer coordinator. "Can you go?" I received this call earlier this week in the morning and had to go to work. After work, I found out the man in question was still with us and still hoping for harp music.
I found his room easily. He was residing at the nursing home where I did my healing harp internship. When I entered, I saw a very emaciated elder, with long, wild grey hair. I asked if he still wanted harp music. He opened his eyes and whispered, "The harp! The Harp! Ohhh! Yes.There is nothing like a harp." His room mate turned his TV off and suggested I close the door. As I began to play, my patient immediately drifted away.
I thought he had passed several times. His breathing became very infrequent and his eyes were glazed over. But he was still with me. His room mate's phone rang and there was an angry conversation full of cussing. I was determined to hold a peaceful space of beauty for my gentle friend. He was not bothered by this call.
There were notes on the wall alongside his bed, with words of love from those who cared for him. I saw a few photos from his life. I played for an hour and a half, wondering if he was leaving soon and I wanted to be there for him with the music he craved. But my eyes were blurring, and my back and arms beginning to hurt. As I began to pack up, he came to and thanked me repeatedly, by laying his hands on his heart and beaming. I gave him an origami peace dove and he held it hard and fast, pinched between his fingers. As he looked like he had been a bit of a wild man, I said, "See you on the flip side, my friend." That made him silently shake with laughs, as much as a dying man can.
I was so honored to have granted this wild and gentle soul a last request for harp music, as he leaves his mortal coil. Happy Trails to you!
Karen Lee DeBraal