Music in Hospice

May 11, 2017, 4:53 AM · Every week I go into Hospice to play for patients, never knowing what to expect. At first it seemed awkward and selfish, in a way. Families and dear friends are visiting loved ones during a critical time, and I knock on the door asking to take some of those precious moments away.

Sometimes I'll get a "no thank you," so families and friends can spend the remaining time left. Other times I get to play, and hopefully help create new memories during the final days. Unbeknownst to me, it happened in a beautiful way recently.

Stained glass spiral

A few weeks ago I went into Hospice to play for a patient and performed Edelweiss in a room full of family, a therapy dog, and Hospice staff. It was a beautiful yet heartbreaking moment. After playing, I was asked to play, when the time came for the funeral. Well, today I provided music during the wake, and again I wasn't sure what to expect.

One by one, someone from the family or a dear friend came up to me while I played and asked if I was the person who had played for the person in Hospice. Another family member stopped me in the hallway and said that my playing in Hospice had meant so much to her sister-in-law. I didn't know how to respond but managed to say thank you. I knew that wouldn't suffice, so I said I was really thankful to have been able to play music that she had requested like "You Raise Me Up" and "Ave Maria." With tears in her eyes, this sweet lady whom I had never met gave me a hug and thanked me for the music. In that moment, I thought about my time in Japan and how I would play Japanese folk tunes. After the music, those in the Japanese community talked to me as if I were a friend and no longer a stranger.

Towards the end of the wake I wanted to end with Edelweiss, but before I could begin, another long-time friend had approached me and said she had something important to say. She shared with me that during the final hours of her friend's life, she talked about seeing her dog in heaven and how much she enjoyed the heavenly music. That she mentioned me and my music. Over and over again she spoke of the heavenly music...There I sat with my violin in disbelief. Her friend said that in our final moments, our needs and thoughts become so simple -- yet during those precious moments, she felt it was important to talk about how the music had impacted her.

Yesterday was the end of a beautiful adventure. I was able to play at the funeral service for the Hospice patient who had passed away.

I felt welcomed by the family and no longer a stranger who had gone to play for their mother a few times in Hospice. At the end of the service I played Edelweiss before the casket was to be transported to the burial site. In that moment I truly felt as if I were an instrument being used to help say goodbye.

I walked to the burial site with the husband and priest -- through rain blowing sideways -- but I was determined to play underneath the tent, where her body would reach its final resting place.

There I stood, underneath the tent with violin in hand as I watched the pallbearers slowly bring in the casket. The priest said a prayer and gave me a nod to play..I took a deep breath, and for the final time I played Edelweiss.

Today was a day that I'll never forget. I never thought playing in Hospice would bring me this adventure, but I'm thankful and pray for peace for the family.


May 13, 2017 at 03:41 PM · For Alexander Strachan ~

Your holy article about playing in Hospice brought back very poignant memories of my own experience/s giving a mini recital for all ambulatory residents of a major hospital here in Chicago, which was a first time "Music for Medicine" especially coined Title to honour the memory of my then a-few-days-ago passing of Uncle L., on the West Coast ...

Meeting with the Director of Hospice, a very kindly gentleman & innovator in December, 1994, he asked if I might be up to playing for their HIV/Aids patient's? Chilled at first, as the time was yet fresh in most minds of the public (mine included), I gave much thought to it and prayed about such a request ~

After some hours, I decided to walk into the 'Special Section' of Hospice without my pianist, following our ambulatory patient mini violin/piano recital, and as yourself, did not know what to think nor what would happen? Admitting some degree of fear, I talked to my 'higher self' and reasoned it would be a Gift if I could summon the courage to go near a dying Aids patient with my violin in hand ... Knowing my just late Uncle had been a Cantor, and a Giver to people, this moment in time seemed a way to truly honour his Life and memorialise his memory far across the country ~

On December 30, 1994, following a "happy mini recital", John d. B., took my hand with the bow and led me into The Room of the desperately sick and approaching final closure of their lives on Earth where they were laying - Alone ... Starting to shake some yet fighting tears coming, I began playing Ave Maria with no announcement excepting the opening strains ... The Quiet was eerie and one wondered what would be ~ My Host, the Hospice Director, said there was a request. We walked to the bed bound person looking grey and I played an improvised profile of "Fiddler on the Roof". Quietly yet suddenly, there was a suggestion from one of the Hospice Nurses to come to the bedside of 'a patient who hasn't opened his eyes nor eaten or spoken for over 6 days.' I saw the "Valley of the Shadow of Death" on his greyed & gaunt awaiting last moments face. The melody of "If I were a Rich Man" came strongly into mind and I began playing this piece, impromptu, watching his near lifeless countenance. Very subtly, I saw a finger lift up off the hospice tray; then another and another and then an innuendo of trying to smile taking place and kept playing, emphasizing the rhythm with glitzy pizzicato's to juice it up and, Walla! This lifeless soul was tapping all fingers to "If I were a Rich Man" with a huge Smile now beaming from his hope filled face with suddenly opened eyes!!! We were all in tears of Joy and connected by Music's Gift to inspire Life amid the darkest moments ~

Upon parting, we joined squeezed hands, sealing a friendship he would within 36 hours take into perpetuity yet with "If I were a Rich Man" sounds from a fiddler on her fiddle during his solo transition on Up ~

Thank you, dear Alexander Strachan, for sharing your Stories and in so doing, bringing a treasured memory by now, long tucked away in a corner of my heart, alive again to replay on this Mother's Day week end ... ( Sunday, May 14, 2017, marks the fourth Mother's Day without my beloved pianist Momma ... Perhaps she is reading this!) I Love You, Forever, Momma ~

"Lizzie" xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

May 13, 2017 at 07:17 PM · I have not played for Hospice, but I do remember playing for my grandfather-in-law's funeral and having some similar feelings. He was a WWII Marine, and they asked me to play the Marine Hymn. It was just me, no accompaniment and I thought, how will this work? It's not going to sound right on the violin, it's not meant for the violin! Seems like it's usually sung by a big group of soldiers, or played by a brass band. But of course I agreed anyway, because I wanted to do my part, and I thought, well, I'll just do my best, play it, and hopefully no one will notice how weird it sounds on solo violin. So then the time came, and everyone was quiet, and I started playing the tune on the violin, with nothing else -- no group of voices, no brass band. Suddenly I realized: It sounded like a single, lonely voice, singing this hymn. It had a poignancy that I'll never forget, like one soldier singing it for a final time. It was very moving, and it went beyond me in that moment.. I was so glad I'd agreed to play exactly what he would have wanted to hear.

May 14, 2017 at 01:24 PM · Dear Laurie ~

How beautifully and simply framed is your Memoir of playing the Marine Hymn on your violin with many human wonderings beforehand ...

Being timeless, in sharing your story, you are reminding us we all have the capacity to overcome inner doubts to answer God's Call ~

I've no doubt your loved one 'heard' the strains of your lonely solo violin and had peace on the 'Other side' ... Surely, your solo violin was a providential Good bye played with Love ~

May 15, 2017 at 10:38 PM · Thank you Elisabeth, I think you are right. We have to remember, sometimes it's really not about us!

May 18, 2017 at 08:38 AM · The last time I saw my Father, the night before he died, I took my violin to the hospital and asked the nurses and other ward patients if it would be ok to play. I asked my Dad if he'd like to hear something and he says 'oh yes' so I played Massenet Meditation and then Elgar Salut d'Amour - 2 pieces I've played so often as encores - and played my heart out. If meant so much to me as well as my Dad and apparently gave pleasure and solace to many of the patients.

As Yehudi Menuhin said to me, the violin is the instrument of the gypsies because you can take it everywhere with you and if you can spread some joy, so much the better.

Madeleine Mitchell

Violinist & Professor Royal College of Music London

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