Singing for Hospice Patients

When singing for people at life’s thresholds like we do in this choir, we often find ourselves singing for patients who are terminally ill, receiving care from a hospice team: physicians, nurses, social workers, spiritual counselors, CNAs and volunteers. Many times a request for Threshold Choir bedside presence will come through a hospice volunteer coordinator, volunteer or social worker. A hospice patient for whom we sing may be living in their own home, with family members offering caregiving and presence. Or a patient may be living at a fully staffed residential care home, assisted living facility or hospice inpatient unit.

Threshold Choir members come by invitation to these settings, to ‘make kindness audible’, singing in small groups to patients and their families.

If you’re wondering, “what does this look like and sound like, singing bedside for a hospice patient?” This PBS piece created by KQED in San Francisco at the Zen Hospice offers you peek into our bedside role.

As the KQED piece is titled, Threshold Choir “brings songs of comfort to the dying.” Yes, we do. And not only to the dying, but to the people who love and surround them, as well as to ourselves. Singing this way is a reciprocal experience of comfort and life affirming presence.

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Southwest Regional Threshold Choir Gathering

IMG_0174-1Sing for nearly two days, straight??? Oh, you bet! And dance some, and eat good food, and share the company of lively, bright, compassionate souls – yes we did! In late February, as many choir members from across the southwest as possible gathered in Glendale, AZ for our annual gathering. It was hosted by the Phoenix West Choir, who did an absolutely graceful and extraordinary job of welcoming us with their creative embrace.

We learned new songs. Each choir shared some of their own songs or much loved standard songs with the wider circle. We walked a candlelit labyrinth at dusk, we shared in a community sing. It was all WOW. And here is a pretty darn good selfie of those of us who were there, glowing with the joy that singing brings you.

One of the most joyful things about singing in this choir is the blending of voices that occurs, the oneness of the sound, when we sing one line of harmony in a circle of 60 people or when we split into three parts.

It is honestly like no other experience most of us have had in our lives. And that’s saying something, don’t you think?

Here are some more images from the gathering, to give you an idea. If you are drawn to this service, what we call ‘Kindness made Audible’ – let us know – we’d love for you to come join us and see what is happening in Tucson.

 

Choir members offering and receiving songs

Choir members offering and receiving songs

 

Shadow Rock UCC in Glendale, where we gathered.

Shadow Rock UCC in Glendale, where we gathered.

Sunset, the evening of our Community Sing

Sunset, the evening of our Community Sing

Moonlit labyrinth walk.

Moonlit labyrinth walk.

NOVEMBER 22, 2014 Tucson Threshold Social

Tucson, Eastside, Threshold Choir member, Pam Ballingham, cordially invited, Joan Brundage, who took training classes with the Music for Healing and Transition Program.
Joan shares her training and experiences and her musical background as applies to ministering to those who are undergoing a transition such as the process of dying, illness or other debilitating trauma.
Two of the many examples  Joan shared were the importance of having an awareness in selecting an appropriate song (tone, rhythm, variation etc.) for the one being sung to.  And she stressed the importance for the singers to prepare themselves emotionally, physically and psychologically before they share in song.
We thank Pam for recognizing Joan’s knowledge and talent and arranging for her to share them with Tucson Threshold Choir in continued conscious giving in song from birthing, in between and to one moving through time.
We thank Joan.
Tanya Fleisher

A Tucson Eastside Threshold Choir Rehearsal Experience

November 11, 2014
In our process to re-learn a song we gathered together sharing our input, those of us with trained musical eyes and ears and those of us with an intuitive sense.
Both have passionate intention of fine tuning the song yet allowing the flow of the nature of the song to occur while giving to the person being sung to the sensitivity and soothing of soul as one moves through time.
Tanya Fleisher

Threshold Choir on NPR

If you listen to NPR, you may have already heard this story run during Weekend Edition yesterday. If you haven’t heard it, you can either give a quick listen through this link or read the audio transcript. It is a lovely piece about our Threshold Choir sisters singing for hospice patients in Nashville, Tennessee.

Nashville’s choir is fairly young. We’ve had a recent growth spurt in our eight year old Tucson choir that is very exciting and we keep welcoming new folks. If you just found us by googling and searching around the web, great! Please feel free to use the ‘contact us’ form on the blog and we’ll be in touch with you soon.

During our rehearsals, as we work on listening and blending our voices through our core songs, we are becoming more connected and committed to this work. It is true as one of the Threshold board members says in the NPR story, we are in many ways “reclaiming our humanity”. Simply by the acts of pausing, resting in silence together and then sharing songs during times of transition, we sense into being more present and more human, with each vibration of a new note.

Singing into Grace

Yesterday was a bright and sunny day in Tucson, balmy compared to much of the country who shivered with temps at or way below the zero degree mark. Six members of our choir gathered on the humble front steps of an adult care home to ‘warm up’ our voices for singing winter carols on what might have felt like a spring day to many folks. We went inside to find a semi-circle of elderly faces in the living room, some sleeping, some expectant, with a couple of caregivers present amongst them. Just what we hoped. We came to sing in honor of a woman who had recently transitioned in this home, to celebrate her life, and those who knew her and/or cared for her on her journey, all on behalf of her family.

We sang a few of our core Threshold Choir songs, yet realized quickly that on this ‘ninth day of Christmas’ the holiday spirit was still mighty present! We shifted into familiar tunes like Away in a Manger, Silent Night, Joy to the World . . . you know the stable of songs. Faces brightened, singing along opened up with cheer. Jingle Bells was likely the crowd favorite!

Then we went to the house next door and sang to a new group in the living room. One lady had a series of questions for us: “Where did you come from? What church do you go to? Do you know my minister?” I can see why she wondered from where on earth we appeared in her living room. Understandable! And as our ‘voice’ of the choir that day answered her questions with the response “we come from many faiths and our songs are written by members from various traditions or beliefs systems” – Baha’i to Jewish to Universalist to Baptist to well, you name it –  I stood in quiet awe of what Threshold Choir does across this country.

We sing from a place without faith boundaries for people during fragile times. We sing openly from our hearts. We let ourselves be vulnerable. We sing into grace.

And hopefully, from there we issue peace.

(And yes, we learn something every single time.)

Then, this morning my meditation reading catalyzed this post. It relates so well to our experience yesterday and this sweet inquisitive lady’s questions. The author of my reading, Mark Nepo, writes:

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“Each person is born with an unencumbered spot – free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of  fear and worry – an umbilical spot of grace where we were each first touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call this spot the Psyche, theologians call it the Soul, Jung calls it the Seat of the unconscious, Hindu masters call it Atman, Buddhists call it Dharma, Rilke calls it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qalb, and Jesus calls it the Center of our Love.

To know this spot of inwardness is to know who we are, not by surface markers of identity, not by where we work or what we wear or how we like to be addressed, but by feeling our place in relation to the Infinite and inhabiting it.”

More and more through singing with Threshold Choir, it feels like we sense our place “in relation to the Infinite” because we honestly do stand at infinite thresholds. It matters little what faith we do or don’t bring into these spaces; what kind of clothes we wear or where we work. All that matters, really, is the grace we sing into along the way.

 

“Responding to Suffering with Compassion”

The week before Christmas, we were privileged to sing once again at a hospice where we regularly do.  Since these visits are not associated with particular singing requests, we often sing softly in the hallways between rooms and ask at each room, after consulting with the staff, if patients or loved ones would like us to enter and sing.  We have found that for us and for the places we support, both requests and this more improvisational style works.

On this visit, after warming up in the lobby and checking in with staff about which rooms might invite music, we went to those identified to introduce ourselves and ask if they wanted singing.  We do not know what we will find when invited into a room.  In what state are the people in the room?  What do they want or need in this moment?  What perspectives do they hold?

The staff suggested a particular room to begin.  When we approached, the two people inside, a mother and daughter, were awake and eager for music.  We asked if they had any holiday requests and based on their responses, we selected several of the more upbeat holiday songs that we had prepared, such as “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls”.  Throughout the year, we sing almost strictly Threshold choir music, but during the holidays, we vary this as holiday music has great meaning for many.  The women sang along with us, creating an atmosphere of impromptu caroling, bringing in the spirit of the season.  After singing about three songs, the daughter thanked us, a usual sign that they release us, that it’s time for us to go.  We thanked them and wished them the best for the holidays.

The next room the staff suggested was just down the hall.  They had heard us singing and warmly invited us in.  There were similarly two women in this room.  However, both were about the same age, perhaps late 50’s, and here was a more somber atmosphere.  After the two women and we briefly settled into the space and asked if they had any requests, we chose “What Child Is This” for them.  Almost immediately, they both began to weep silently.  One of the women, who had sat down on a chair across the room, went to the bedside of the other woman to hold her hand.  We continued to sing as they wept together, holding hands.  When we had finished the song, they thanked us, still with tears in their eyes.  We wished them the best for the holidays, grasping their hands before walking out silently.

Our last two rooms had one woman each.  The first was awake, alert, and sitting up in a chair.  We selected some of the more secular holiday songs, such as “Silver Bells” and “Let It Snow.”  She gratefully listened and seemed to find nostalgia and peace in the songs.  She shared some of her story with us, where she was from, and her extensive music and singing background.  We sang about three pieces, she thanked us with a smile on her face as we departed.  In the last room, we found a comatose woman.  The staff had directed us to her, and we sang “Silent Night” to her very softly before wishing her peaceful journey and exiting.  We asked at a couple more rooms and their tenants kindly declined music.  Finally, we asked the nurse at the nursing station if he would like any music, and he declined, though he and they usually say yes.  Their song is the often the last we sing on our visits.

During rehearsals, we not only practice learning music and singing, but holding space and connecting deeply with each other and with the person or persons for and with whom we sing.  It is not uncommon for us to be met with tears, particularly when singing songs that have particular meaning for people, as many holiday songs do, or one of the Threshold choir songs with their powerful and simple messages.  It is our privilege to carry this vehicle of respite or release, to respond to the suffering we meet or see not with shared suffering, but with compassion.  This is our goal, at least, and we are grateful when we have listened well enough to achieve it together.  Best wishes for a new year full of connection, community, and compassion.

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