Hospice musicians Kim Mason and Tony Richmond sing with a patient at the Van Wert Inpatient Hospice Center. (Photo submitted)
VAN WERT - Music reaches deep into the human spirit and can evoke a wide range of emotions. Even patients suffering from late-stage Alzheimer's disease can respond to a special song they hid in their heart many years ago.
The use of music in hospice promotes relaxation, helps to reduce anxiety and supplements other pain control methods by allowing the patient an outlet to express themselves. That is why hospice agencies, like Community Health Professionals (CHP) have music programs to benefit both the patients and families they serve.
Tony Richmond of Celina has served as a chaplain and musician with CHP Hospice for six years. The pastor of Lighthouse Fellowship in Celina says he enjoys bringing joy into the lives of terminally ill patients in the midst of a difficult time."When you come visit and sing a song to someone personally," Richmond said, "it makes them feel special...cared about."
Richmond and fellow hospice musician Kim Mason of Van Wert, view their work as ministry in the lives of patients and families they serve through hospice.
"I am there for the family as much as I am for the hospice patient - to bring peace, comfort and unity, during a chaotic time when emotions run high," Richmond said.
Each patient and family situation is unique and there are no formulas or guaranteed outcomes when using music, but Mason says there are times when family members who are distant from one another connect in the moment through music in a hospice setting.
The benefits of music to the patient are also noticeable.
"I visit a 98-year-old patient who has Alzheimer's and is unsure of who or where she is most of the time," said Mason. "She does not recognize any of her family, but the moment I start singing 'You are My Sunshine,' she is smiling and singing along."
Hospice musicians are respectful of cultural and religious backgrounds of the patient. Because of these variables, it is necessary to use universal, well-known songs whenever possible.
A referral from the nursing staff is the starting point for music ministry, including the type of music the patient prefers and any requests; but the plan often changes as time is spent with the patient.
"Many times I stop in the middle of a song so that the patient can share a memory or emotion, or maybe it brought another song to mind that they want to hear," Mason said. "It may bring about laughter as everyone in the room is trying to remember the all the words to a particular favorite of the family."
The number one request is for the old hymns of the church. Often the patient will ask for a specific song about heaven or a better day ahead to help their loved ones through the experience.
In addition to singing to patients and families in their home or in area nursing facilities, CHP's hospice musicians can collaborate with the family and caregivers to help plan music for their memorial service or provide a favorite recording.
"I love this kind of work," Richmond said, "I am here to bring comfort, show love and care and, as a chaplain, address spiritual concerns, which at this point, many people have."
Hospice musicians like Richmond and Mason abide by the words of Hans Christian Andersen, "Where words fail, music speaks."