Allina Health Home Health has four board certified music therapists who work with the Allina Health Hospice team to help address patients and families' unique needs.
Music therapy can be used as non-pharmacological clinical intervention to address physical needs such as pain, anxiety, trouble breathing and restlessness. When implemented skillfully, music can slow the heart rate, deepen breathing, relax muscles, and increase concentration without the side effects of medication.
Additionally, music therapy provides emotional and spiritual support to patients and families in one of the most challenging times of their lives. As a therapeutic medium, music can transcend language and communication barriers, and it can provide a welcomed creative and expressive outlet for those who are suffering. Music therapists also help facilitate a sacred and supportive space for those who are in their last moments of life.
Anna E. Lee, board-certified music therapist with Allina Health Hospice, shares the experience of a music therapy session that will remain with her always:
Lee arrived at the hospice patient's bedside with her guitar and a few standard music books in tow. She was not prepared to find the 12 friends and family members crammed into a tiny room, all gathered around the bed of the newly admitted patient.
Across the bed stood a man holding a bible, who was a preacher and the patient's nephew. Together, he and Lee lead an impromptu hour-long service around the bed with many of the patient's favorite hymns, prayers and readings. Many of the family members and friends joined in singing, their body posture relaxing and tears flowing freely.
Lee wound down the service by quietly singing, "Dona Nobis Pacem," a simple three-part round that translates to "Let us have peace." The patient's two daughters, who were standing on either side of the bed, joined in the round. "Suddenly, the patient opened her eyes," Lee said. "She looked at each daughter, as if seeking approval." Her daughters each held one of her hands and with tears in their eyes said, "It's OK to go, Mom. It will be so beautiful where you are going. Dad is waiting for you." Others added their reassurance as Lee held the space with music.
After the words were spoken, Lee said she felt that it was time to end the song gracefully. She began to slow the cadence, the woman closed her eyes, and then as if on cue, with the last note, the patient took her final breath and was gone. The family burst into tears and hugs all around and they exclaimed, "You sent her off!"
"It was the first time this ever happened to me and I was astonished," explained Lee. "I composed myself just long enough to sing one more song." As she left the room and the door shut behind her, "my legs turned to jelly. I knew right then that I would never forget that day, and I was right."
More hospice care stories
Anna Lee, Allina Health Hospice employee, Allina Health Hospice Foundation Newsletter, Shared Journey newsletter 2010
Anna E. Lee, board certified music therapist