Widely held assumptions about the innocuousness of the music therapy process in hospice have been challenged on this blog in the past. In this post, guest author Cathleen Flynn, MA, MT-BC offers reflections on navigating very common and very precarious dynamics with hospice patients. (See Cathleen’s bio here.) She digs into the roots of what feels dangerous in music therapy, and overturns notions about the harmlessness of music, therapists, and elderly patients. We hope she inspires you to do some digging, too.
What do we do when we leave a visit feeling as though we have journeyed a thousand miles since the visit began? When we arrived, all we knew were facts–name, age, diagnosis, recent medical history, comorbidities, referral reason, primary caregiver’s name and relationship to patient. Now, as we walk out the door, we can not comprehend all that has transpired–interpersonally, intrapersonally, emotionally, physiologically, spiritually. Time has been interrupted, then suspended, then reversed, then expanded, and music lingers in the air as something shared comes to a close and we have to leave the room to go… document. Continue reading “The Art of Coping with End-of-Life Care”
I can’t shake the memory of the feeling of being utterly out of place.
I felt it in my stomach, in my tongue-tied mouth, and my anxious mind as I vigilantly scanned the room looking for some haven where I could wait inconspicuously for the service to begin. Trying to appear casual, and just to blend in, I gazed at the photos—all of them, one by one, for as long as possible without giving anyone else reason to take notice of me. Not that it was difficult to give attention to the display, or that I was only pretending to be interested. Each photo told of the healthier parts of a life of which I had only known the premature end. I found it hard to look away. It can be a comforting thing to continue getting to know a person after they have died.
The holiday we just celebrated here in America reminds us that being grateful is a pretty important thing. Work in end of life care reminds us to be grateful on a daily basis. Life’s fleeting nature and unpredictability are impossible to ignore while interacting daily with people who are dying. Taking for granted anything that gives meaning to our lives becomes much less of a habit.
One thing my patients have taught me not to take for granted is time well spent. This year in particular, I’m grateful for having been able to attend the annual conference of the American Music Therapy Association. The conference was held in Louisville, Kentucky just a few weeks ago, and was definitely a time well spent.
Back in high school I took a career test. I filled out a hundred little bubbles on one of those multiple-choice questionnaires assessing strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes in order to determine the top five careers in which I’d be most likely to succeed and find satisfaction. Of course, along with half of the other kids in my class, the top ranked result was “Music Therapist in End of Life Care.”
In April, Meghan posted in about her experience being “inside” hospice, on the receiving end as a family member who was losing a loved one (click here for Meghan’s post). The experience of a family member is a much different experience from that of a service provider who, being on the “outside,” is not thoroughly detached but certainly stands in a different place. The hospice worker approaches the situation from a different angle, having a different relationship to the patient and a different role in the patient’s life and care.
The difference is obvious, right? I thought so. Then, all of a sudden, just a few weeks ago I found myself on the inside. Continue reading “Family From the Inside”
When people find out that I work in end of life care, there’s a gamut of typical reactions ranging from “Hats off, hero!” to “You’re weird.” Rarely do I have the chance to discuss the topic at sufficient length to explain or defend myself, or otherwise fully convince the speaker that I deserve no such label. Although frustration sometimes wells, I can live with the labels. People generally speak from a position that has been informed by their own experiences. If I understood how their lives had been impacted by death, I would probably understand their response. Continue reading “So, What Do You Do for a Living?”