It is difficult to imagine our lives without music because it has become an integral component. It is unknown how long music has been a part of human existence, but ancient musical instruments carved from bone were discovered between 43,000 and 60,000 years ago. However, our voices and hands were likely the first musical instruments. For a long time, we have known that music can improve our lives and promote physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.
Music is an integral part of our celebrations and life’s transitions. Our final transition from this life is also a time when the power of music can be crucial in bringing peace and comfort to the dying and their loved ones. Consistently, research on music in hospice and palliative care has shown that patients, family members, and staff all benefit from the music, often after only one session. It has been discovered that music can reduce anxiety, agitation, and pain. It also assists patients in breathing more slowly and deeply.
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Another profession that can provide music for the dying is music therapy. These musicians have been trained to use music to alleviate physical and mental pain. The level of patient participation distinguishes a music thanatologist from a music therapist as one of the key distinctions between the two professions. When prescribed music is utilized, the patient remains a passive recipient. If able, the patient can actively participate in the music with a music therapist. They can sing or play an instrument in unison. Patients can contribute to compiling a playlist of songs they may wish to hear as they near death. Playing old, familiar songs can help to remind them of happier times and provide them with the opportunity to reflect on their lives and recount their life story.
When a loved one enters hospice care at the end of life, family members may feel somewhat overwhelmed as they attempt to offer assistance in a situation they have never encountered. The majority of us have never been exposed to death and have never learned how to be with someone who is dying.
However, although it can be stressful at times, caring for a dying loved one is an honor and an opportunity to learn about the most significant passage of life. When faced with this difficult crossroad with a loved one, do not avoid being a caregiver out of a sense of unpreparedness to be of service to the dying. Here are some straightforward ways to comfort a dying loved one:
Create a quiet environment
A dying person’s senses are frequently heightened, making loud noises distressing and unpleasant. Turn off the television, request that guests speak in another room, remove the telephone, and reduce the outside noise entering through the windows.
Sit in silence
The dying person may appear to be sleeping, but there is frequently a great deal of “inner work” occurring as she resolves any unresolved issues from the past and releases attachments to life. This work can be supported by simply sitting next to the individual and thinking loving thoughts. If you already use prayer or meditation in your own life. This is an ideal opportunity to practice while helping to create a loving space for the dying person.
Speak soothing words
When you need to convey a message to a loved one, speak softly and choose words that support his inner work of letting go. You can remind him that he has lived a good life. That you will remember him, and that it is okay for him to let go when he is ready. However, use words sparingly so that your loved one can continue to concentrate on the inner work occurring.
Lessen the lighting
Again due to increased sensitivity, bright lights can disturb a dying person; therefore, turn off any overhead lighting and use a few small lamps to create softer lighting. Place the lamps to illuminate the workspace without shining directly on the patient.
Maintain the patient’s oral moisture
Utilize soaked sponge sticks to moisten your loved one’s mouth and lips frequently. During the dying process, the body begins to dehydrate, which can cause uncomfortable dryness of the mucous membranes. This small act can make a significant difference in your loved one’s comfort during their final days.
If possible, soft music should be played.
Some terminally ill patients respond positively to soft background music, promoting relaxation and alleviating anxiety. Others, however, may become more agitated by music that does not resonate with their current thought process. Play slow instrumental music that has been written specifically for dying patients, such as harp music or the a cappella vocals of Threshold Choir. Watch for any signs of discomfort from your loved one, and be prepared to turn the music off if needed.
Use gentle touch
Whenever you need to move or turn your loved one. Speak softly to her to tell her what is going to happen. Then touch her arm or hand gently to prepare her for the motion. You can hold your loved one’s hand or offer a very gentle massage as long as that seems soothing to her. In the last few hours of life, it is sometimes better to stop touching the patient to keep her awareness of the dying process rather than on the physical realm she is trying to leave behind.
The most important skill you will require as you care for a dying loved one is the ability to tune in to his state of being. Listen and observe to help you recognize when something is causing discomfort or when there is a need for your closeness. Be ready to provide whatever gentle kindness you are called upon to offer, and trust that you will know instinctively what to do when a need arises.
These moments spent with a loved one during the last few hours of life are precious and profound. They can change you for good forever. Say yes and show up to offer comfort when this opportunity occurs in your own life. You won’t regret it.