singing for the dying and at wakes
Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafeawe

Post to this Thread - Sort Descending - Printer Friendly - Home

singing for the dying and at wakes

open mike 04 Mar 06 - 12:08 PM
GUEST,D.H. Littlefield 04 Mar 06 - 12:51 PM
MBSLynne 04 Mar 06 - 01:00 PM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 04 Mar 06 - 01:45 PM
alanabit 04 Mar 06 - 02:17 PM
open mike 04 Mar 06 - 02:24 PM
Big Mick 04 Mar 06 - 04:07 PM
Dave (the ancient mariner) 04 Mar 06 - 04:22 PM
harpmolly 04 Mar 06 - 06:48 PM
GUEST,Louise 04 Mar 06 - 09:15 PM
GUEST,pattyClink 04 Mar 06 - 09:23 PM
Kaleea 04 Mar 06 - 09:59 PM
katlaughing 04 Mar 06 - 11:21 PM
frogprince 05 Mar 06 - 12:21 AM
GUEST,12stringstan 05 Mar 06 - 05:44 AM
Micca 05 Mar 06 - 07:02 AM
open mike 06 Mar 06 - 03:30 AM
Desert Dancer 06 Jul 11 - 04:29 PM
Desert Dancer 02 Jan 16 - 11:02 PM
maeve 03 Jan 16 - 05:25 AM
Share Thread
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:

Subject: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: open mike
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 12:08 PM

I just have to share day yesterday was magic.
I was asked to sing with a family that was holding vigil
with their daughter who was on her death bed in the house.
The hospice nurses had visited earlier in the day and she
was surrounded by friends and family. Poor girl was not
yet 30 but had cancer. She had breast cancer as a teen and
had survived for nearly 15 more years. It made us all mad
because she was the most vivacious, bubbly, sparkly, positive
person and she was a healer as well. She was a masseus(sp?) and
often helped others to feel better, but this did not prevent
her from being taken from us.

Any way i was able to help soothe the situation by singing.
I was so glad i was able to share music with the people there.
I sang about love, and when the end was near, i was moved to
do songs that contained images of flight, sailing, etc. She
passed away in the evening and it was such a priveledge to
be a part of such a passage.

Is there a cultural tradition in some places of a person
who specializes in providing music in such situatiuons?
I think I have heard of some women who come to funerals
to "keen" or mourn....what area of the world is this from?

Is a wake something that happens before of after a person dies?

I feel as if I could be of help to others is similar situations,
after being by my dying mothers' bed side for over a week and
singing to her, the others in the hospital found some comfort
and solace in hearing my music, too.

we are all poor, wayfaring strangers....

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: GUEST,D.H. Littlefield
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 12:51 PM

I have been asked to sing at several funerals in our southeastern area of Connecticut. Several songs come to mind: Fathers Now Our Meetings Over ( Ann & Frank Warner Collection), Time Has Made a Change In Me ( trad,from the singing of Jerry Epstein), and the more sensitive verses of Rolling Home to Old (New) England ( Stan Hugill's Shanties from the Seven Seas). All these songs have an element of sweet sensitivity about them.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: MBSLynne
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 01:00 PM

The Scots used to have women whose profession it was to keen at deaths and funerals.

The wake is a bloody good piss-up after the funeral.

What a beautiful story. I should think you made her family feel ....well, not good exactly but you know what I mean.

Love Lynne

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 01:45 PM

What a wonderful, sorrowful, beautiful experience. And what a privlege to be part of it. I can't think of any formalized traditions, but I am aware of more and more musicians who are being asked to assist in the passing of dear ones. I can only hope that there will be singing and music as I leave this side of the veil.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: alanabit
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 02:17 PM

I sang at a funeral for a twenty year old, who had died from a genetic problem, after a severely handicapped life. That was eight days ago. I had to do the same for his sister three years previously. The pain of the relatives was so palpable, that I had to stare at the wall and catch no one's eye.
I do recall an experience of playing in a hospital about twenty years ago. I had been lucky not to leave that place in a box myself (hep B, with extraordinary levels of blood toxins). While I was recovering, they allowed me to have my guitar again. One day, I was asked to play for a very old couple, who were celebrating their wedding anniversary. She was in bed, and he was sitting quietly, smiling and holding her hand. There was such an atmosphere of peace and contentment in that room, it was a privelege to be there. I played the best I could and came out with the feeling that I had been the lucky one.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: open mike
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 02:24 PM

i am a true believer in the theraputic powers of music!

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: Big Mick
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 04:07 PM

I understand. In the fullness of time these memories will become some of the most meaningful events in your life. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this matter.

All the best,


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: Dave (the ancient mariner)
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 04:22 PM

I have used "Come By The Hills" for this purpose, it is a gentle comforting song. As I get older I find it too hard to sing at times, glad you could help them it makes a difference.

Yours, Aye. Dave

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: harpmolly
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 06:48 PM

"Here we are, we've come to call
With pipes and flutes and fiddles and all,
In case of death we've even brought a keener!"

(Sorry, just one of my favorite Chieftains songs).

There's a huge movement in both music for healing and what's called "music thanatology" (thanatos=death, I think), and it's even becoming a profession--you can become a CMP, or "certified music practitioner". It's becoming very common, especially among harpists, but singers are a wonderful addition too. Laurie Riley, one of the gurus of the Celtic harp, has written several books on the subject, including one about how to start a music therapy program in your area if there isn't one already. Stella Benson has also written several books on the subject and has two "Healer's Way" CDs out as well.

I too have an extremely personal experience with this. About ten years ago, my grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer in her early eighties, and because of her age it moved fast. WIthin six months she was pretty close to the edge, living at my parents' house in Ashland, Oregon. Annah was like a second mother to me, and one of the most shining presences I'd ever known, and the thought of losing her drove me just about out of my head.

I came home for Christmas break (I was in college in Eugene) and was lent a small harp by a friend of my mother's, who had heard I was conceiving a passion for the instrument but had never had the chance to really play one. I spent two or three days noodling around on it, immediately realizing that this was the instrument for me--my fingers seemed almost to know what to do without being told. I experimented with a few melodies and some singing, and one night I went and sat down at my grandmother's bedside and just spontaneously played and sang for her for about an hour. I still don't know for sure if she could hear me--she was more or less comatose at this point--but she had always loved to hear me sing and had sung to me when I was a child ("Bushel and a Peck" from Guys and Dolls, of all things...sort of a weird lullaby, but I loved it. ;)) Anyway, she died the next morning, the day before Christmas Eve.

I'd like to think that in some way I helped ease her transition, but there's no way to really know and I don't want to be presumptuous or pretentious. All I know is that it's always been incredibly special to me that I was able to do that, and it just confirmed that the harp was the instrument I was meant to play.

I've played at hospices several times and sung at a funeral or two, and there's no question that the music helps--whether it's the dying or those who are still living. Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast--it's not just a saying.

Good luck!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: GUEST,Louise
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 09:15 PM

Don't know if its true, but I've read that the ancient Druids would have one who's sacred responsiblity was to sing the soul into a child at birth, and into the afterlife at death.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: GUEST,pattyClink
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 09:23 PM

Molly, I bet she heard you. Doctors and nurses say hearing often is still working when people become non-responsive. How cool that you were able to give her a familiar voice and an angelic instrumental.

I have sung lullabies and recited poems and psalms at a deathbed. It just seemed the thing to do.   We must bring good things and good thoughts to share at the bedside, not just a long face and platitudes.

Does anybody else get an overwhelming urge to sing when attending a wake or funeral or graveside service? (I don't actually, because it just 'isn't done') I wonder if I came from a long line of keeners.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: Kaleea
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 09:59 PM

I have often played&/or sung for the Rosary or funeral of a friend or the loved one of a friend or aquaintance, and when an activity director at nursing homes played various instruments such as Autoharp, Guitar, or Celtic Harp & sang for the bedfast & dying. Some residents were completely unresponsive to family & nurses, but when I played for them they would smile or sometimes open their eyes or on rare occasions speak.
But not even that prepared me to sing & play for my father. The new year was difficult this year.
In December I got the call that Daddy was dying, so my neice, her then 14 month old & I went back to the midwest. I took my autoharp as I can play melody on it or sing along. I was at the nursing home with him daily for 3 weeks. All the employees, residents & their visiting family members came in throughout the day to listen. The Drs said at that point that there was no way of knowing how long he would linger, so we came back to San Diego.
Two weeks later-in January, Daddy called me to talk-a difficult task as he could barely breathe due to pneumonia. The next day, he was unresponsive to those around him so they called in hospice. My brother & nephew & hospice were sitting with him, but the when they had no one to take the 1 am shift, my girlfriend volunteered (in my place).   About 11pm, I started hearing "in my head" Precious Lord, Take My Hand-over & over, so I began to sing it with all my heart as it has always been a favorite of Daddy & myself. Then, I heard In The Upper Room (part 2!)--both songs just as Mahalia sang them. After a while, my girlfriend called me to report that Daddy had passed on while she was singing Precious Lord, Take My Hand to him.
Never underestimate the power of Music. Music is not limited by time & space.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: katlaughing
Date: 04 Mar 06 - 11:21 PM

Oh, Kaleea, {{{{{HUGS}}}} and thansk for sharing that with us. You, too, open mike, and everyone else. This is something very clsoe to my heart.

There was a day when I played my dulcimer for the sister of a Lakota healer. I explained about thanatology (University of Montana has a degree in it) and I was so honoured when she said she would want me there to play for her when her times comes. (If you put "thanatology" in as a search word, there is at least one other thread which discusses this.)

When I played as hospice in WY, I always felt a great sense of peace.

Hearing is the last faculty to wonderful for one to hear beautiful music, poetry, etc., esp. by one they have known and loved.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: frogprince
Date: 05 Mar 06 - 12:21 AM

There are all kinds of instances of people assumed to be completely out of touch, in deep coma, who later recounted hearing what had been said around them. So blessings on all of you who certainly have given real comfort to the bereaved, and you never know when that comfort may have extended to the last moments of the dying one as well.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: GUEST,12stringstan
Date: 05 Mar 06 - 05:44 AM

I mainly sing, but also play Uileann pipes, and about 11 months ago i was called to an elderly neighbour who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and given a short time to live. His request to me was for me to play the pipes at the funeral service but not the usual u would expect.He requsted Jigs, Reels and Hornpipes, for the service, as in his own words, "If I was there in person, I'd like a bit of music to tap me foot to" I did it, to the most wonderfull reception, I made his Funeral service a unique experience, to the delight of his family & friends, While he was being lowered, I sang a-capella, his request of the parting glass. It was a perfect farewell to a lovely man, and summarised his entire outlook on life.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: Micca
Date: 05 Mar 06 - 07:02 AM

In recent years, who, that was present, will ever forget the recorded voice of the deceased Chris Gorniak leading all his friends, and a packed Church, in singing "Blessed Quietness" at his Funeral?
When my turn comes I have left instructions and alreday written the song!!

No Church in gloom No solemn tune No po faced funeral poem
go to the pub and lift a glass And my friends can sing me home

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: open mike
Date: 06 Mar 06 - 03:30 AM

from another thread comes this angel harp idea//
a re-tuned autoharp with the chord bars removed

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 06 Jul 11 - 04:29 PM

The NY Times had an article this Sunday on music in a hospice: Relaxing, Touching the Memory, Music Helps With the Final Transition (and a related item from the perspective of the photographer for the article: Music in the Face of Death). There are audio links with the article online.

July 3, 2011

Every week, three music therapists from MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care crisscross the city and suburbs to sing songs to the dying. With guitars strapped to their backs, a flute or tambourine and a songbook jammed in their backpacks, they play music for more than 100 patients, in housing projects, in nursing homes and even in a lavish waterfront home. The time for chemotherapy and radiation is over.

The music begins: a song to hold death at bay, a song to embrace death, or to praise God. A Vietnam veteran asks for a song in Vietnamese. One man asked only for songs with death in the lyrics, to force his family to talk to him about the future. He was ready to talk about it. They weren't. So the therapist sang Queen's version of "Another One Bites the Dust." "Amazing Grace" and other spiritual songs are most often requested just before death.

James D. Williams, 85, of Brooklyn, who is dying of cancer, says, "Right now I am on borrowed time." A therapist, Charla Burton, visits to sing hymns with Mr. Williams and his wife of 61 years, Daphne, 79. "The Lord has kept me and I am very grateful," Mr. Williams says. "With the backup of my wife. She holds on to me." Both were born in Belize, and their songs, part of their spiritual practice, have a joyful Caribbean lilt.

In Oceanside, N.Y., Merle Gross, 73, is dying of breast cancer. Sitting beside an ocean inlet, she and Ms. Burton make selections for a songbook she wants to leave behind. If there is time enough, it will include songs for every member of her family, all the people she loved and her dog, Shayna.

And in a Manhattan housing project, a mother cradles her 6-month-old daughter, Cecilia, and Meredith Traver plays a lullaby on her guitar, softly singing the words, "Papa is going to buy you a mockingbird."

One of the youngest patients in the program, Cecilia Havre, has a genetic defect, Trisomy 18; half those born with this disorder do not survive beyond the first week of life. The baby smiles at her mother, Chantel Vazquez, and her father, Eddie Havre. Cecilia is deaf, but the music soothes her parents. Cecilia is thriving in hospice -- or end-of-life -- care and may be moved to palliative care, where treatment may be incorporated.

Rose Vuolo, 86, an Alzheimer's patient on Long Island, has had visits from Ms. Burton for four months.

Rose rarely speaks. "She has gotten progressively worse," says her grandson, Paul Motisi. "It's become constant confusion." Except sometimes when Ms. Burton visits.

Ms. Burton plays the Cole Porter song "Begin the Beguine" -- the lyrics of which even Cole Porter said he could not remember without the sheet music. Yet on a good day, Rose sings along, with perfect pitch and range. It was the song she and her husband danced to at their wedding.

Millicent Wilson, 94, who is dying of colon cancer in the Bronx, stopped singing after her husband died and she got sick, says her son, Mark V. Wilson, who stopped working to take care of her. But because of her music therapist, Yelena Zatulovsky, his mother is singing again.

At the end of a song, she asks him, "Mark, why don't you dance anymore?"

~ Becky in Long Beach

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 02 Jan 16 - 11:02 PM

Songs of Transition

By Jennifer L. Hollis
The New York Times
December 30, 2015

"Have you ever been there when someone dies?" people ask when they find out I play the harp and sing for dying patients. It is the same tone I hear when someone asks, "Do you think you will have more children?" They want to talk about it, but they worry that the answer might be a secret. When I tell them I have been there at the moment of death, though not as often as they might suppose, they ask, "What is that like for you?"

I tell them it is intense. I wait to see if they would like to hear more, or if they have their own story to tell. I am a music thanatologist, trained to offer music in a prescriptive way, to create a calm space for dying patients and their families. I focus on the patient's breath as I play the harp and sing. With this rhythm as my guide, music can echo and reflect the dying process. The patient leads the music vigil with his or her breath, right in the middle of the hum of machines, the trill of cellphones, and the voices and nose-blowing of family. It often feels to me as if the room becomes larger, warmed by music and filled with the courage of families preparing to say goodbye.

The people I play for are incredibly gracious. They say the music is relaxing and beautiful. They invite me in to their moments of vulnerability. I once played for a patient who was struggling with complicated symptoms. She was uncomfortable and having difficulty speaking. But she asked me to stay, and at one point during the music vigil she mouthed the words, "You are blessing my soul."

The first time I was there when someone died, I was surprised by how peaceful it felt. The patient was on hospice in a nursing home, and we were alone in the room. I sat at her bedside and sang while resting my hand lightly on hers. Her breath slowed.

When I moved my hand away to reach for my harp she made a small movement. I returned my hand and continued to sing as her breath slowed, then stopped. It was just the two of us, in the late afternoon silence of her room. I did not feel frightened or distraught. I felt honored to be there and humbled by her connection to the music. I sat with her until a staff member walked in and spoke, and the bustle of phone calls began.

I feel pure astonishment in the presence of death. Who am I to be there? I feel the stillness of time and also its relentless push forward. As they leave, these patients remind me of my own body's fragility and willfulness. By inviting me to witness their death, they teach me to live, to craft a life with joy and attention. They call me to be bold. What are you waiting for? I imagine them asking, as the door of their life gently closes.

My wonder and bewilderment at death has evolved. Thanks to good training and my practical nature, I do not get freaked out. But I am not entirely comfortable either. Even with years of experience, it doesn't get easier to confront mortality, my own or that of the patients I meet. I never stop feeling like a beginner. Perhaps we are all beginners in times of profound human transition, no matter how much we have seen it before.

The cycles of human mortality seem especially vivid at this time of year, as the tide of the past year sweeps out and the new one is about to be born.

One thing I know for certain is that the presence of another person, even a stranger, can be transformative during transitions. It can turn an unendurable moment into an opportunity for meaning and awe. This is not something I could have learned in my training, or even in years of music vigils. I learned it giving birth to my son.

When my water broke three weeks before my due date I was on vacation with my family. We talked to the doctor at the local hospital, then made the three-hour return trip to Boston. My husband ordered Chinese food and my stepchildren binged on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

After I checked into the hospital, my husband slept while I tried to cope with the contractions. This was my first pregnancy and I assumed it would be a long labor. When the pain became overwhelming, our doula arrived and began to coach me to breathe slowly and deeply. She made low noises along with me, showing me how to relax. When the contraction finished, she said, "Now lower your shoulders, and let a deep breath out. Let that contraction go."

Her attention to my suffering calmed me down and made me feel deeply cared for. I focused on her quiet voice and clear instructions. Breath by breath, the doula accompanied me. This dynamic was familiar from my role in end-of-life care. She was an outsider providing help and experience at an intimate, vulnerable time. But I had never been the patient before. It was my first time as the one in the hospital bed.

I needed my husband's love, kindness and good humor in order to endure the pain. But I found I also needed the doula's confidence and wisdom. She had seen birth before, and knew strategies that could help. She couldn't take the pain away, but she stayed with me. This companionship gave me the courage to relax and accept a process that was already underway, until my son was in my arms.

In those first days home from the hospital, I understood something new about my work with the dying. I realized that when families express their gratitude, when they say they feel blessed or that they will remember me, they are not just talking about the music. They are also grateful that I was with them through their suffering, as a witness to their grief.

Playing music for dying patients is not about giving a concert to distract them, or even trying to make them feel better. Perhaps it is not about music at all. It is about cradling a family with beauty as they end the conversation with someone they love. It is about helping them bear an impossible transition which — like labor — is both painful and unstoppable. It is about staying close and trying to do something useful, until they have the courage to say goodbye and leave that room, into a world where one precious voice has gone silent.

Jennifer L. Hollis is a music thanatologist and the author of "Music at the End of Life: Easing the Pain and Preparing the Passage."

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: singing for the dying and at wakes
From: maeve
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 05:25 AM

Thank you. Yes. That's it.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
  Share Thread:

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")

Mudcat time: 15 September 1:18 PM EDT

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.