Harpist finds deep satisfaction playing and singing at the bedside of people who are dying, in pain, anxious or distressed.
What do you do? As a music-thanatologist, I play the harp and sing at the bedside of people who are dying, in pain, anxious or distressed emotionally and spiritually. As I play, I vary the music in response to the patient’s changing physical, emotional and spiritual needs. I offer music that supports patients in their process by creating an atmosphere of serenity and comfort for patients and their families.
How did you get started in that field? When I was working as a chaplain in hospitals and hospices many years ago, I wanted to blend music with health care. Over the years, I learned about Music-Thanatology, and just a few years ago I had the opportunity to train. At last, after working in many roles in the field of grief, death and dying, I can now blend all my experiences.
What’s a typical day like? Atypical! I could be driving around King County, harp in tow, visiting hospice patients and families in their homes or wherever they reside; playing for residents in skilled nursing facilities; writing notes in patients’ charts, teaching health care staff and public groups about Music-Thanatology; sending invoices; advocating for the field; and of course, practicing.
What’s the best part of the job? First, it’s the surprises! People express their personalities strongly at these times. Second, it’s the relationships that I build with patients and their families, and with the clinical staff. Making a difference in patients’ and families’ lives, at these critical phases of their lives, is deeply satisfying. They give me so much more than I give them.
What surprises people about what you do? They’re surprised that anyone does what I do, and that people work in this profession. They’re amazed that there is a ministry that provides this comfort and support. So I explain to them the word “thanatology” (it means the study of dying). They often call me “the harp angel,” and then they add, “I hope there’s someone around like you when I die.”
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