Hospice singers bring comfort to the dying

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(Host) Many families struggling with a terminal illness turn to their local hospice organization for help.

Hospice nurses and volunteers provide much needed medical care, home visits and support for patients and their families.

In many parts of Vermont, Hospice volunteers also provide comfort another way – with music. VPR’s Nina Keck has more.

(Angel Band plays)

(Keck) Trillium is like many volunteer choirs. Except that when this Rutland singing group gives a concert – it’s for someone who’s dying.

(Angel Band plays)

(Keck) Singer Steve Pigeon lives in Middletown Springs. Like many in the group, he says hospice was there for his family when they needed it. Performing with Trillium, he says, is a way to reach out to other families who are hurting and give back.

(Angel band plays)

(Pigeon) "So many times the person is more ready to die than the family is ready to let them. And singing these songs is a way of allowing the issue to come up in a very gentle way and allowing people to think, to have it said in the room that death is coming. And it’s magical."

(Music plays )

(Pigeon) "And there was one time, when we thought the person was dying. And we learned the person was doing well that day. It was a good day for her and she had invited a bunch of friends and family and she was throwing a little concert – yeah (chuckles) – and it was incredible. As we sang one of the more dancy toons – the mother danced with her daughter . . . and then with her son . . . . (chokes up) and what else could you give?"

(hospital sounds)

(Keck) Carol Horton-Owen stands outside her mother’s hospital room. She smiles as she remembers how her mother danced that day.

(Hoton-Owen) "She likes that song Fly Away – and she started singing with them and bee-bopping with them on that. They said it was the first time they’d had anybody dance (laughs)."

(Keck) Carol’s mother, Gayle Sheldon, was diagnosed with brain cancer in June. On this particular October evening, the 71-year old Rutland woman lies nearly motionless in a hospital bed. Her four children, grandchildren and a few close friends stand nearby.

(sound of entering room) "Mom you’ve got some people who are going to sing for you!"

(Keck) The family says music has been one of the few things that have helped their mother to relax. They asked members of Trillium to sing for her one last time in the hospital.

(I’ll Fly Away plays)

"This is your song mom – it’s the one you like. Are you going to get up and dance? (soft laughter)

(Keck) Carol sits on the edge of the bed and holds her mother’s hand. Everyone in the room smiles as it begins to move slightly in time with the music. She knows you’re here, Carol mouths to the singers as tears stream down her face. . . . She knows you’re here.

(I’ll Fly Away plays)

(Keck) Gayle Sheldon’s son, David Sheldon Junior, stands outside her hospital room after the concert. His mother was a very giving person he says – always reaching out and doing for others. It meant the world to be able to give her something so beautiful back.

(I’ll Fly Away plays)

(David Sheldon) "My mother really liked it. She’s always loved music. And to know that the music was coming just for her. I know how much it soothes here and I know how much it brings her peace. And for these folks to come in here and share that is just enormous . . . just an enormous thing."

(Kutcho Song)

(Norford) "I’m Lauren Norford, I’m from Pittsford. I had both parents going through hospice in the last two years. And one of the most challenging parts of it was to feel like you didn’t have anything to offer – with your own parent of course that’s really difficult. As part of my healing experience I felt a real longing to want to give back. I feel like we’re giving love and light to the patient – and through music it’s really transmitting that to the person and it’s very real and very sacred. And it gives to everyone."

(Keck) Singer Nelson Jayquay of Tinmouth says that while they sing for people who may be closer to death, he says as humans, we’re all on the same journey.

(Jayquay) "It’s not just that we’re singing for the patient. There’s an amazing community when we’re singing among all of us who are mortal. Sharing . . . what we have to give to each other. The human voice in harmony – one voice supporting another – that’s what it’s supposed to be.

(Keck) And in this setting, he says, it is.

For VPR news, I’m Nina Keck.

(Good Night plays)

(Host) That’s the hospice singing group Trillium performing in Rutland. If you’d like to find out about a hospice singing group in your area – you can call the Hospice and Palliative Care Council of Vermont at (802) 229-0579.

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