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. http://thresholdchoir.org/ 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. http://groundlingearthyheavenly.blogspot.ca/2013/05/a-wildly-wonderful-world.html