Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death."

Hearing the MT yesterday sing all these wonderful old folk tunes inspired me to get my act together and start organizing some music and really working on expanding my repertoire. I arrived at the office around 8:30am to print out chord sheets for traditional, folk, and older songs I found the night before. I thought I'd have enough time to put together a good solid packet of music to take with me to see our two patients this morning, but I barely got 4 songs printed out before I had to leave to go meet the MT. If you're the type of person who begins a project and doesn't like to quit until it's completely done, than you probably understand what I felt like today having to stop and start my repertoire boom.

But anyway, our Miss Chicago was sleeping, so the MT and I went to see our cute little looker (the patient whose smile lights up a room.) She too was sleeping, but we stayed and sang some music to her acapella. When the MT gently touched her hand, the patient awoke. As soon as she mentally processed that there was music in the room, she smiled. I just love seeing her smile. It makes my day every time. We stayed and sang with her for a bit. I touched her hand, trying to offer some comfort and to let her know that we were there for her. She doesn't speak much. Sometimes she'll smile and say, "That was very good!" in the most stereotypical yet adorable old lady voice you've ever heard. Today, she said something different. "You're hands are cold!" As much as I felt bad that my touch wasn't offering the level of comfort I had hoped, it was nice to hear her say something that was completely sensible and appropriate! It was an entirely normal and acceptable thing to say, so kudos, Smiley! :)

The middle portion of the day consisted of paper work (more chord searching), an office luncheon to celebrate the awesomeness of our social workers, and our weekly team meeting. Mid-meeting, our social worker answered a call about my favorite nun. She had revoked our services the day the MT came to visit her with me. I think I was still bitter at her for letting us have a whole session with her and through its entirety, failed to mention she was revoking us. Who knows, maybe it was out of her hands and she didn't even know about it till it happened. Either way, I was not very saddened knowing it was our last visit together.

So anyway, the call. The nun was in the process of being re-admitted to our services. (Oh joy!...) I was anything but excited. They told the social worker that her identical twin sister came since the nun was now actively dying, and that a psych/social team member would greatly be appreciated to support them. Yes, I got voted to attend to the patient. I had seen her two or three times before, and knew her the best out of the psych/social team. And so, I left team and journeyed back to the nunery. I didn't even need my GPS! (big day for me haha)

I ended up staying with the patient for over an hour and a half. In the beginning, I played music as our HCC helped the patient sign the necessary paperwork. I sang the standard Catholic hymns I had in my book, and some praise and worship songs I learned from Cryptora back in the day. Eventually, more and more sisters shuffled into the room, and the mood began to change. It was quite a powerful experience to say the least. To be there and witness a person's last hours of life... I really think it's a "you had to be there" kind of thing. I can explain here what it was like to sing and play guitar as the other nuns gathered around her... I think when I found myself providing background music for the priest as he gave Sister her last rites... that's when it really hit me... the whole experience was just... it was surprisingly a lot more intense than I thought it would be. As I sang songs like, "Open the Eyes of My Heart" and "Refiner's Fire", I kept thinking "Who would've thought that when I was playing these songs back at the FOPs in high school, that I'd be playing them again 6 and 7 years later for someone receiving her last rites...." I honestly didn't think I'd ever have a need to sing those songs again. Turns out, the words are perfect for end of life reflection.

When everyone was gathered, I re-played all the traditional hymns again. (Morning Has Broken, How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, Hail Mary Gentle Woman) The nuns, priests, and family members all sang right along with me. There must've been over 20 people gathered, and they were all singing, supporting Sister, and letting her know that they're there for her.

Despite her state of weakness, Sister's twin called their family members so they could say their last good-bye (SO SAD!) I heard Sister say, "How am I? Oh, I've been better." Everyone in the room let out a little chuckle. When asked 'how are you' by the second caller, Sister replied, "I'm okay. The lady is here playing music." I felt so touched that she mentioned the presence of the music! Up until that phone call, I was standing there, playing and singing, wondering if it was having a positive affect on her. It was so nice to have a verbalized confirmation that yes, she hears the music, and yes, she valued it enough to tell her loved one that there was music for her.

I don't know... I thought the whole experience was just so much nicer with the music in the background and everyone singing together... sometimes silence can be awkward, especially in situations like this... it's not every day you see a loved one gradually pass away right before your eyes... the music created this calming, reflective quality...

I felt bad leaving, but after an hour and a half straight of playing guitar, my finger tips were about ready to fall off, or slice open and bleed (too graphic?) Well, I guess it's my own fault for not practicing enough... or maybe that's just how life goes for guitarists... anywho... I'm beyond grateful for my experience today with Sister... I've had a complete change of heart... I feel incredible guilt for ever disliking her, and now, I'm actually quite quite sad that she is leaving... poor thing... I remember her asking her twin in her Croatian accent, "When am I going to die already?" Her twin didn't understand what Sister said and couldn't get her to repeat it, but I heard it. I know what she said. Poor thing was ready to go. Imagine being in her position... everyone's crowded into your room... the priest is anointing your forehead and giving you last rites... your sister hands you the phone to say bye to Mom... to have to know that you are about to die, and to just anticipate it for hours like that... I can only imagine, what it would be like...

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