Music-Thanatology. Yellow Door Care

Music in Palliative Care

Used in the palliative care setting, Music Thanatology is a ‘professional field…that unites music and medicine in end of life care’ (Music-Thanatology Association International.)
A specifically trained thanatologist responds with harp and voice to the stages of illness and vital signs in order to provide relief from the symptoms of pain, restlessness, fear and other aspects of the disease process.

Music provides relief
Music which is created for the sole purpose of symptom relief and emotional support is unlike other music. Using peaceful and harmonious sounds, on the ethereal strings of a harp or from the pure voice, the patient is assisted along the final stages of this earthly life towards acceptance. The respiratory rate and blood pressure are monitored and the music is altered and adapted to promote the best responses.

Music in an environment of grief
As loved ones gather to be present for the last time together, a thanatologist will provide periods of ‘vigil’ music for thirty minutes to one hour at a time. Recognised for it’s invaluable place in the world of medicine, Therese Schroeder-Sheker created the foundational work of this field, now practiced in many countries. Music has a profound effect on all living creatures. Knowing that somehow it transcends all other language, humans have used it to cope with grief, loss and passing.

Thanatology style of music
Music that is shared with the patient in the palliative end of life setting is evolving, responsive and spontaneously adaptive to the patient. The Thanatologist will use the patient’s breathing pattern to guide from restlessness to peaceful calm, using rhythm, volume and tone.
It is overwhelmingly peaceful, meditative and nurturing of the spirit. Drawing from many forms of song, hymns, prayer, Gregorian chants to other traditional forms, the music intuitively created by the Thanatologist does not fit into one recognisable box.
Supported by Scientific research, published studies can be found through the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and Spirituality and Health International.

The person who has trained as a Music-Thanatologist has a deep connection with the subtleties of energy in a palliative setting. They learn to analyze the needs of the patient and the loved ones present, and then respond in the language of prescriptive music. It transcends the level of consciousness, because at that stage often the patient has lost consciousness. And yet, using the physical parameters of observation it can be seen that the music is indeed providing comfort and reassurance. Pain is better managed, tension melts away, tears are allowed to flow, expectations are released. Acceptance is supported and letting go is made easier. The gentle sounds evoke healing of souls in the saddest moment of farewell, allowing for the memory of the last stages of life to be imprinted with the spine-tingling beauty of this ethereal music, softening the deep pain of loss.

For further information on Music Thanatology
The following books offer further information:
‘Music at the End of Life: Easing the Pain and Preparing the Passage’ by Jennifer L Hollis
‘The Harp and the Ferryman’ by Helen Cox and Peter Roberts

If you are interested in speaking to someone about Music Thanatology, or if you find it might be a perfect extension to your own musical practice, contact:
– Kima Rodgers in Brisbane 0400 657 443
– Peter Roberts: St John of God Hospital. Mc Kellar PCU and The Institute of Music in Medicine
PO Box 1480
Geelong, Victoria (03 5224 1227

While there were no contacts for South Australia, I’m sure these people will be able to help you further if you were interested in Music Thanatology for someone you love.

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2 thoughts on “Music-Thanatology. Yellow Door Care

  1. A friend of ours recently lost his wife to cancer…my duo partner and I so wanted to go and play for her…our friend said she was non responsive and she wouldn’t know we were there and thanked us for the offer…I remember on the day of her funeral as I hugged him he said I wish you could of played for Gina…my duo partner and I wished we had just gone there and played for her regardless…as our gut instincts told us we should go…however we didn’t want to overstep our friends wishes at the time…since then we have discussed the possibility of doing this for other people who in their last days of life…we are both a huge believer in music as a healer and a therapy…I myself use my music as a therapy for myself with my own health issues whilst sharing it with others…so how would we go about becoming involved in such a program with people in palliative care…and offering our services to assist in patient and family during this transition…Regards Tracey Gardiner, William McCarron(Strawberry Jam Duo)

    1. Dear Tracey,
      What a wonderful, kind gesture you are offering to your friends and family. It would be lovely to introduce your services to others in the community. I will have to think about how you go about this due to the difficulty in gaining consent, clearances, insurances etc for your venture, I am not sure of any programs, however you may want to contact a few of the hospices in Adelaide to see if there is a need. All the very best with your aspiration!

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