After a little more than five months of working in this field, I have the following reflections:
1.) Working in hospice care is an honor.
For our clients, we are some of the last people they meet in their lifetime. The entire hospice team (docs, nurses, social workers, aids, etc.) has a tremendous impact on the quality of a person’s final months, days, and hours. Receiving the trust of patients and their families during this intimate and reflective time is an incredible honor.
2.) Music is especially powerful in the hospice setting.
Music accompanies many of the memorable events in our lives. Parties, weddings, funerals…memories of which may be triggered by music. And then there are the more subtle memories, such as singing to calm crying infants and special songs shared between spouses. In short, music can often evoke emotions that cannot be accessed by merely discussing events. For hospice clients and their families, music therapy can provide comfort in a very stressful time.
3.) Anyone can make a Gold Record.
Grieving caregivers and family members often have the desire to hear their loved one’s voice after he or she has departed. The available technology makes this a very real possibility. With a laptop and a relatively inexpensive microphone, a music therapist can make recordings that will mean the world to family members, especially after the patient dies. I have made a few of these recordings, and the gratitude expressed by those close to the patient has been amazing. The recording doesn’t necessarily have to be music – consider having a client talk to family members, tell stories, or read favorite scriptural passages. This can be a very meaningful experience for the client as well.
4.) Don’t count on next time.
If there is something you would like to do with a client, don’t wait. Because of the nature of this field, conditions can change rapidly. There have been a couple times when I have missed opportunities to do really cool interventions because of sudden changes in clients’ conditions. Of course, there will be times when things just don’t work out. Just do not take future sessions for granted.
5.) Find the “spark”.
I work with clients in a variety of states. Some are very alert and others are barely responsive. For those that are minimally responsive, it can be difficult to see a point to the therapy. However, I’ve been surprised by a number of clients whom I originally suspected would not benefit from services. By trying different approaches and interventions, particularly with clients with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, I’ve stumbled upon a “spark”, or some sort of response that serves as a reminder that there is still a person in there. Finding this “spark”, as well as a way to access it again, can make for an extremely meaningful experience for family and caregivers, as well as for nursing home staff and even other members of the hospice team. With low functioning clients, it has become my goal to find this spark and to share it with others who would benefit from seeing it.
As I continue in hospice care, I am sure I will have more to write about. I would love to hear your comments or questions!