Moms, Music and Hospice

Were you fortunate enough to have a wonderful mother? I was. My mom and I were best friends. We had voices that matched perfectly and she taught me to sing. She and my dad loved to dance. Sadly, she passed away due to complications from diabetes 28 years ago, right after the birth of my son. No one takes the place of the mom who raised you. But I got lucky again with a kind, thoughtful and supportive mother-in-law who lived near by, surrounded me with love and treated me like a daughter. She taught me so many things. She and my father-in-law filled their home with music- mostly southern gospel hymns. I soaked it all in. 

About five years after my mom died, my dad met Meg. I’ll never forget the night he called to tell me about her. He was out in Arizona. He was falling hard for her but she already had a boyfriend. I told him to put on his dancing shoes and go for it. He did and as they say, “The rest is history.” Their 22nd wedding anniversary was May 31st. 

Meg and I enjoyed each other whenever we could be together and she made my dad so happy. Crowned Prom King and Queen at the Highlands Ridge Golf Community, where they settled in Florida, they made friends easily and were often the first ones on the dance floor. When a recent move took them to Colorado, Meg’s piano was not to be left behind. 

As a grown woman with a family of my own, and because my dad and Meg lived far away, my relationship with Meg was different than that of my first two moms. She was sweet and thoughtful, loving and kind. When my more conservative father was out of the room we would commiserate about politics and women’s rights. Over the past 22 years, the love between us blossomed. Mary Margaret – Meg – has been my third mother. 

When my mother-in-law died I remember thinking “No one should have to lose a mother twice.” Soon I will lose my third mother. Meg is now in hospice care. 

The grief, like the relationship, is happening long distance - with daily calls to my dad and check ins with Meg’s daughter who lives near them. My heart and my thoughts are in Colorado. Last week I didn’t write a newsletter and I almost took this week off as well. Sometimes, the world needs to stop to allow us to be present. But as I lay in bed last night, it came to me that today I wanted to share a page from my book about the benefits of music in hospice care. 

I have been asked “Does there come a point in time when music is no longer beneficial?” I would say no. Hearing is the last sense to go when someone is dying. Hospice caregivers will tell you to keep talking to your loved one. I would add, keep playing music and keep singing. 

Thank you for letting me share my personal story today. I hope this short section of my book will encourage you to keep music in mind for hospice care.

Benefits of Music in Hospice Care 

Music is a time-out from talking. Often it’s hard to know what to talk about when families are gathered in the hospice setting. Singing is something everyone can do to increase comfort and alleviate fears during a very difficult time. 

Music is a pathway to meaning. Familiar songs may soothe when the unknown is looming. They can provide a pathway for reminiscing. 

Music is a gift. Singing together is a way to actively do something for someone who is dying. It may comfort the singer as well as the hospice patient. 

A Hospice Music Moment with Mary Sue 

Julie’s hospital bed was set up in the living room. Surrounding her was the clutter of a life well lived. Several generations of family had gathered and crowded in to be with her during her last days. Little ones ran underfoot and young adult cousins stood around, at times awkward and at times jostling and joking, not sure how they were supposed to act. Julie’s husband and friends were ever attentive, serving food and checking on her, offering comfort and conversation. 

I arrived with my guitar and began to sing. Julie and her family called out their favorites: “You Are My Sunshine,” then “Twinkle Little Star” for the toddlers. Secure now that it was ok to laugh and enjoy the moment, the cousins broke out an old rock and roll song. Spirits lifted with each song shared. Soon everyone was engaged in the music, together. Now everyone knew what to do. And it was ok to take a break from the grief. 

Excerpt from "Songs You Know By Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care" by Mary Sue Wilkinson, page 5