The Top 6 Hospice Songs I Use

by Matt Logan

I decided to create a list of some of the songs I tend to use over and over in my hospice music therapy work.  Hospice clients account for about half of my work hours, and I have about 10-14 active clients at any given time.  The location of the private practice I work for is in a fairly small town in Iowa, and I travel often to other small towns in nearby counties.  This may account for the preferences of my clients, and I’m hoping that many of you will have other songs to add to this list.  In fact, you can create your own “Top 6″ in the comments section!  It would be nice for everyone to see what is working for other people in other locations.  Thanks!

1.  In the Garden (Hymn)
Anne Murray - What a Wonderful World - In the Garden

This is a rather old hymn, and I have used it in many ways.  Several families have requested it and sang along while their family members may be unresponsive.  The familiarity of the song and the spiritual comfort it provides to some can change the tone of a tense or emotionally difficult environment.  In one on one settings, I’ve found that humming the melody with simple guitar accompaniment can be effective in reducing anxiety.

2. Carolina Moon by Benny Davis and Joe Burke
Gene Austin - Rhythm Crazy: Popular Music from the 1920's - Carolina Moon

This is definitely an oldie, but it is one of my “go-to’s” when a client can’t think of a song to request or when I’m working with someone born in the 1910′s or 1920′s.  It has been my experience that they can almost always sing along to this one.  Caution: this lilting love song is ultra-catchy, and has the ability to get stuck in your head for days.

3. How Great Thou Art (Hymn)
Anne Murray - What a Wonderful World - How Great Thou Art

Another classic hymn that seems to be known by members of almost every Christian denomination.  This is a must for your hospice tool bag.

4. I Love by Tom T. Hall
Tom T. Hall - Tom T. Hall: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 - I Love

I picked this one up from one of my internship supervisors, Kim Hawkins.  It’s great because of the imagery in it, which can serve as substance for discussion, reminiscence, or lyric analysis.  It is also an easy song to use for a fill-in-the-blank songwriting intervention, in which a client inserts the things that he or she loves.

5. Old Rugged Cross (Hymn)
Alan Jackson - Precious Memories - The Old Rugged Cross

Another old hymn that tends to get requested quite often.  The Alan Jackson version in the iTunes link is actually pretty good.  Check it out!

6.  Let Me Call You Sweetheart by Beth Slater Whitson and Leo Friedman
Patti Page - Patti Page With Lou Stein's Music, 1949 - Let Me Call You Sweetheart

In a tweet the other day, I noted that I almost made it a week without singing this song.  Well, it didn’t happen.  It’s great for facilitating interaction between spouses, and it’s a song that many of my patients with dementia can still sing along with.  I guess it is just one of those melodies that doesn’t go away.

This is a VERY short list, and I’m sure you have many songs to recommend.  I would love to know what you are playing as a hospice music therapist!

-Matt

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{ 9 comments }

Ginny D, MT-BC May 18, 2010 at 9:17 am

-Bill Bailey
-Put another Nickel in (the Nickelodeon)
-Jada
-Crazy (for those who love Patsy Cline)
-House of the Rising Sun (I sang it every time I worked with one of my clients)
-Yellow Rose of Texas
-Harvest Moon
-When you wore a tulip
-In my merry Oldsmobile
-My Wild Irish Rose
Johnny Cash and George Jones have been requested outright. I sound *great* singing those!
I’ll stop there, but I could go on and on and on :)

Ginny D, MT-BC May 18, 2010 at 9:16 am

-Bill Bailey
-Put another Nickel in (the Nickelodeon)
-Jada
-Crazy (for those who love Patsy Cline)
-House of the Rising Sun (I sang it every time I worked with one of my clients)
-Yellow Rose of Texas
-Harvest Moon
-When you wore a tulip
-In my merry Oldsmobile
-My Wild Irish Rose
I’ll stop there, but I could go on and on and on :)

Matt Logan May 24, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Thanks Ginny! Great songs!

Michelle Erfurt April 23, 2010 at 6:49 am

I seem to be working with clients younger than yours! I’m commonly getting requests from the 40′s:
- All of Me
- Always
- My Way
- Ain’t Misbehavin
- Basically anything Frank Sinatra/rat pack

Gina Chemelli, MTI April 16, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Can’t forget “Sentimental Journey”! Also, “Angel” by Sarah McLachlin has some beautiful lyrics/imagery. I’ve had elderly patients appreciate the song even though they didn’t know it, just because the thought of being carried away to a better place by an angel is quite comforting at a time when death is so near.

Feel free to read my blog about my hospice internship! I’m almost at my half-way point and absolutely love it. :)

Thanks for your list! Always lookin’ for new songs to learn from the 20′s!

Karen April 9, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Top Hospice Songs
1) Just a Closer Walk With Thee
2) Keep on the Sunny Side
3) How Can I Keep From Singing
4) Come and Go With Me
5) Lily in the Valley
6) Bells of Norwich
7) O Watch the Stars/Bright Morning Stars
8) My Heavenly Home
9) Courage my Soul
10) Silent Night

Matt Logan April 16, 2010 at 9:04 am

Thanks, Karen! Thanks a great Top 10!

Rachel April 2, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Great post Matt-
Here are my top 6 well known hospice songs with geriatric clients below (in no particular order):
1. Let me call you sweetheart
2. What a Friend we have in Jesus
3. Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue
4. Bicycle built for two
5. Take Me Out to the Ballgame
6. Alexander’s Ragtime Band

And my personal favorite:
When You and I were Young, Maggie ;)

ps- can your next post be about top 6 or 10 lyric analysis in behavioral health? (only asking b/c I am loving this part of my job with substance abuse, and am curious to see what other songs ppl use)

Matt Logan April 3, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Thanks, Rachel! Great list! I’ll start thinking up my Top 6-10 lyric analysis songs – it would be interesting to see what other MTs are using.

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