One of the big myths I hear about hospice is we give you “that shot”and then you die. That shot, being morphine, doesn’t end your life. It eases your pain. But we hospice workers know there is more than one technique to ease a person’s suffering. One of them is thanatology which is the use of harp and voice to help relieve the physical, emotional and spiritual symptoms of the sick and dying. In their training thanatologists learn how to prescribe specific music for problems such as pain, difficulty breathing and anxiety.
Last week I had a patient who’d had a tough life and was having an equally tough finish. “Lisa” was angry and berated and struck out at anyone who was near. Her family stopped coming to visit, and as her death neared, she became even more agitated. I called Elizabeth, one of our music thanatologists, and she visited Lisa that evening. Elizabeth played her harp and sang, which seemed to calm Lisa, though she would occasionally yell out. But Elizabeth continued to play, and after an hour, she said Lisa started to cry—a deep releasing cry. As she sobbed, a hospice volunteer held her. Lisa finally fell into a deep sleep, and remained in this peaceful state until she died. Music has a way of touching our souls, sometimes when nothing else can.