Whenever we’re in Georgia, I always hope to soak up some of Savannah, Georgia’s unique beauty. I’m always drawn to the gorgeous architecture amidst the variety of ornate antebellum homes, and the concentration of the massive live oaks graced with soft Spanish moss hanging down like tinsel. Throw in Tybee Beach, the cobblestone streets of this coastal town, and the intriguing statuary and charms of the mysterious Bonaventure Cemetery, and I’m one happy girl.
It was the third time in our lives that we’d pulled into the parking lot of the Garden City church of Christ on a dark Wednesday night. The first time was with my husband Mark after he had preached at a gospel meeting in Atlanta, and the last time was in 2017 when I passed through traveling across the country with my friend, Stephanie, and though we were strangers to this congregation, were housed by a hospitable couple we’d never met.
On the evening we met with this congregation, gifted teacher Bryant Bailles led the class on the topic of 1 John 3 so skillfully in his very practical class, that everyone in the room seemed eager to participate. After the closing prayer, I looked around and was happy for the warmth I was witnessing in this diverse group of believers. I often try to connect with whatever sisters-in-Christ happen to be sitting near me. I crossed the aisle to a young sister named Kortney whose warm smile and sincere interest in our travel story was truly genuine. When I began to ask about her life I was absolutely delighted and in awe to hear all about her career as a music therapist at Hospice Savannah. I’d taken in a number of podcasts and TED talks presented by brain scientists on the topic of the profound influence of music on the brain — presentations that all rang true from my own experiences. God’s gift of music has always been one of the most enriching experiences in my life; in fact, I wouldn’t get onto our Harley or run a marathon without it! It has served as fuel for running or any other demanding domestic task at hand; it calms my spirit, and helps me feel all experiences more deeply. For awhile we’d play “Name That Tune'' with friends using Spotify, and in the early 2000s I made dozens of music videos of our life experiences. My favorite music now is either singing bowls put to nature sounds and unfamiliar instrumental movie soundtracks, but big band music of the 1940s will always remind me of my mother’s last few years of life for having leaned on that genre of her youth to keep her heart light as she slowly watched herself slip away. “There’s not much of me left” she’d say every now and then, but when I asked her how she felt about dying, she said with a happy little lilt in her voice, “I’m rather looking forward to it!”
After she died, the music video I made for her memorial included little short snippets of my recordings of her speaking her wisdom about preparing to meet God, and what life was all about, and other touching words even on the topic of death itself. I artfully wove these spoken audio clips between photographs while songs such as Sunny Side of the Street, Wind Beneath My Wings and Because You Loved Me paid homage to this remarkable woman.
Kortney at the Savannah church of Christ was happy to help the readers of 100 Churches to better appreciate the use of music around the time of one’s parting from this life, and sent the following words to help us all serve one another better during this holy and precious time:
Music therapy is defined by the American Music Therapy Association as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program” http://musictherapy.org/.
As a music therapist working in the hospice setting at Hospice Savannah, Inc. I use music therapy to help patients with issues they may be facing during their final months or days of their lives. From physical to mental issues, I use music as a tool to help patients and their family members cope within their final days. This can include using music as a refocusing method when patients are having pain and their medicine is not working or has not started to work. It can also include using music-based relaxation to help those who are having issues with agitation or anxiety.
I have also used music as a means of expression for patients who want to leave something behind for their loved ones when they want to put their last words to music. Coming to grips with reality about your mortality can be a scary endeavor for someone to face and I have found that music helps a lot in expressing and helping to deal with those feelings. It can also become a family bonding moment as families sing together and share memories of their loved ones or a couple listens to their wedding song and hold hands as they reminisce about their first date. The uses for music in the hospice setting are numerous, but these are just a few examples of how I have used music therapy so far in my career.
During these times of the coronavirus, many patients are not able to have visits from their family members so social interaction has been a goal for many of the patients that I see. The assisted living facilities, where some of them reside, have been very cooperative and helpful in setting up virtual sessions so patients can have a different interaction other than the nurses and CNAs that they see every day. It is amazing to be able to bring joy and hear the stories that come to mind when a patient hears a certain song from their childhood or teenage years. I’m so grateful to be able to use the gifts that I have been blessed with to help others, especially in such a vulnerable and difficult time as facing mortality.
I friended Kortney on Facebook the day after we met, and found the most gorgeous audio on her feed that she had described to me during our chat the night before. It was of her soulfully singing with her aged grandmother, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. Truly, the world needs more Kortneys who use their talents to shine light and love to those who need it most.
I’ll conclude with this lovely prayer by Teilhard De Chardi, that has taught me much about how we can perceive with more clarity and objectivity the changes in our bodies as we age:
When the signs of age begin to mark my body
(and still more when they touch my mind);
when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off
strikes from without or is born within me;
when the painful moment comes in which I suddenly
awaken to the fact that I am ill or growing old;
and above all at that last moment
when I feel I am losing hold of myself
and am absolutely passive within the hands
of the great unknown forces that have formed me;
in all those dark moments, O God,
grant that I may understand that it is You
(provided my faith is strong enough)
who are painfully parting the fibres of my being
in order to penetrate to the very marrow
of my substance and bear me away within yourself.
Garden City church of Christ
4506 Augusta Road
Garden City, GA