Friday, May 03, 2013

On the Threshold

Deathbed Singers Threshold Choirs

When my wife Ruth's father lay dying in a hospital bed the better part of twenty years ago his grown children kept vigil. Max was a retired minister who had a powerful singing voice in his prime. As he slipped away his kids, all Christians active in their faith communities, sang hymns at his bedside. It was comfort for him and for them.

There was a day when most people died at home rather than in an institution and it was not uncommon for friends and loved ones to offer the solace of the music of faith. Today many leave this life in rather sterile environments and music is rarely part of the experience.

I was intrigued to see that there is a growing movement of what are called Threshold Choirs in the United States, essentially choirs for the end of life. These choirs commit ten to thirty songs to memory and sing them to the dying as requested. Some are oldy goldies such as Take Me Out to the Ballgame (not Take Me Out of the Ballgame!) Others are sacred songs. These choirs rehearse regularly and are given training:

 Always face the person in the chair. Sense their breath, the rising and falling of the lungs, the blood's flush on the cheeks. Watch the loosening and tightening of the muscles, the movement of the eyelids, how the hair on their arms straightens up. Don't stand out. Speak softly. Blend in with the voices.

It would be easy to joke about this -- "oh no, not the choir! I must be a goner!"-- but I see the potential. Often folk I visit in nursing homes and other facilities are listening to music. Many of them have sung in choirs. And I can't help wondering if church choir members would be willing to do this on occasion as a form of ministry.

What do you think of this idea? Have you ever provided music for a dying loved one? Do you think you would find comfort in music when your time comes?

Please check out the return of my Groundling blog. There is a remarkable video within it.


IanD said...

Neat idea. Not sure if I'd be cool with it myself, but neat nonetheless.

Laura said...

I find music such a direct "plug in" to God so this sounds like a wonderful ministry to me.
My Mom who lives with Alzheimer's listens to hymns and old songs everyday. Quite often I sing along even though I don't have much of a singing voice. We hold hands and are connected, at a time in life when connection takes work but is more rewarding than ever.
Your thought of not wanting to see the choir coming down the hall reminds me of my mother in law. She always bought up several pans of these special cottage town bakeshop brownies as she closed up for the season, to freeze and deliver to friends in need over the winter. There was an ongoing joke that even though everyone raved about the brownies in the summer, nobody wanted to see her coming down the road at home with them.

ECB said...

Yes, I have been part of providing music for older or dying people.
I think it is a wonderful idea,
it would be possible to do here at Bridge St. Church

Lynnof60 said...

I have been following this choir for a number of years. Have been in contact with the woman in California who started the first choir. We tried to get something going in Toronto when she was coming this way but it didn't happen. Unfortunate. As a Hospice volunteer I have used music a lot. It is both soothing for the person listening (hopefully) and it is a case of when there isn't anything else to say 'sing'.

janet.rice said...

St Paul's choir trekked to the Oshawa hospital to have a choir session with terminally ill member Rob Vernon. That was probably ten years ago, and many of us still remember it as an amazing experience for ALL of us, not just Rob and his family.