Music has an incredible way of communicating some of the hardest things to express in the moments that matter most.
As a music therapist and psychotherapist, I regularly work with people in the final days or hours of their lives, using music to give comfort, say goodbye, look for meaning, or reflect powerful and complex existential emotions. The main modalities I use are music-based, but also include discussing, planning, reflecting, and counselling. I meet many of my clients for the first time just as they are about to leave this Earth, but music therapy can also play a particularly meaningful role when we begin working together earlier, accompanying a person or family through their whirlwind journey of anticipating a loss. We create a plan that suits their wishes for relationship completion, comfort, legacy work and life review, funeral and memorial services, spiritual needs, and ongoing support to the bereaved.
Here are a few ways that music therapy can support end-of-life care:
- Providing improvised, breath-based live music with someone who is actively dying can enhance presence, create a meaningful environment, facilitate intimate shared moments amongst loved ones, and can provide physical and spiritual comfort for the person who is dying.
- Songwriting with people who are dying and/or their loved ones can provide a means of saying goodbye that is both profound and aesthetically beautiful, and that can be captured digitally to be remembered for years to come.
- Creating customized playlists can be a valuable way for reminiscing, leaving legacies, saying goodbye, and saying I Love You.
- Discussing in advance what kind of music a person might like to die to can provide spiritual and psychological depth to the dying process.
- Composing or discussing music for funerals in a psychotherapeutic setting can bring heightened meaning to those rituals.
- Improvising music together can express the anger, sadness, grief, and fear that often visits everyone affected by a death.
If you are anticipating a death, I urge you to speak to your local hospice, CCAC agency, or primary care provider about what kinds of palliative care and counselling services are available to you during this time.