Guest Post by Mabel Ortiz, VNA Music Therapist.
At the end of almost every music therapy visit I complete with a patient or family, I finish saying goodbye with “it’s been an honor,” or “it has been my pleasure to be here,” which I wholeheartedly believe to be true. Since 2016, I have had the privilege to serve many as a music therapist for the VNA of the Treasure Coast, specifically to those whom we provide hospice services. I often receive questions from curious minds in the community, including friends, who ask about end-of-life matters: what part music therapy plays in health care and how music therapy impacts those who are terminally ill. Others, when I share my love for this line of work, show increased interest in knowing about my experiences and ask, “What’s your favorite part about being a music therapist in hospice?”
My Father’ is a subtly crafted short film of unusual finesse that portrays the reality of caregiving for the elderly, particularly its emotional burdens and costs. An older man, wheelchair-bound and with a below-knee amputation, propels himself slowly and apparently painfully; he is cared for dutifully but joylessly by his daughter in a flat that is far from clean. The film appears to have been shot at daybreak, and much of the action takes place in semi-darkness, with an emphasis on sounds other than words — the early morning traffic of the city; the drip-drip of water; dogs barking outside; the firing of the water-heater as the caregiver-daughter attends to her morning ablutions; the crackle of eggs frying in a pan. Two worlds are awakening, large and small — the city beyond and a household inside. We watch the daughter as she proceeds, mostly in silence, through the rest of her routine, a round of obligations that includes preparing her father’s breakfast and changing the bandage of his stump. They both await for prosthetics to be donated to help the older man at least get around more easily.
“The love stories. My patient’s love stories are my favorite part of the work I do.” When I say this, I don’t mean to romanticize the reasons that brought me to provide a visit to my patients in the first place or the challenges that their loved one’s face during the end-of-life journey. In hospice, patients are referred to music therapy to address a variety of goals, goals that are often aimed to enhance their quality of life while facing a life-limiting illness. Playing live and continuous music can often provide comfort and decrease the perception of pain and anxiety symptoms. Playing preferred or selected music by the patient or loved one can often prompt memories of years past, allowing a space for patients and families to engage in life review and reminiscing.
This is where the love stories are shared. With the sound of a familiar tune, chronicles of a blooming romantic relationship between partners, the metamorphosis of a child and parent relationship throughout the life span or the strengthening of a friendship are disclosed. It is in this sacred and intimate moment that I have the privilege of not only filling the space with music, but also of being a witness to the love that is abundant, even in moments when all hope seems to have been lost.