Amy Clements-Cortes – Soothing Sounds

I met Jack when I started my internship in palliative and long-term care. I got to know Jack, a very charming gentleman who was always complimenting the ladies, over 15 years working as a music therapist. Music therapists work with individuals and groups of all ages, using music experience within a therapeutic relationship to facilitate change in behavior. We use the power of melody to help a range of patients, from those with disabilities to those with terminal illness, work through physical, emotional, psychosocial and spiritual issues. Jack was much better off than some of the other residents at the home because he was independent enough to take the bus and walk in the surrounding area. He had worked as a salesman and continued this role by buying and reselling small items, often trading them with staff, volunteers and visitors. Everyone knew Jack. Although he was a delightful man, I learned that Jack had relatively little family involvement; the people he fraternized with at the home were his circle of friends. I also discovered he was a music lover. I invited him to several events where I was performing, including when I sang the national anthem at a Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre. Jack couldn’t have been more thankful. We took photos and he shared them with all he encountered. “It was the highlight of the year,” he told me.

As Jack continued to “age in place,” as it is known in long-term care, his condition and independence declined. Physical and cognitive impairments constrained his ability to navigate the nursing home, and he spent the majority of his days in his room. While he was never a patient under my care as a music therapist, I felt compelled to visit Jack and continue stimulating him with song. In December of 2012, Jack was diagnosed with end-stage cancer and was transferred to the facility’s palliative care unit. I continued to visit Jack and sang at his bedside. As his cancer progressed, so did his level of awareness. I was struck that no members of his family came to visit and became even more conscious of the fact that I did not want him to die alone. Each week I would visit him, sing songs at his bedside and reminisce. Some of his favorites were “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning,” “Five Foot Two” and “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.” At times Jack appeared to be sleeping and his breathing was labored. But I knew on some level that he could hear me and understood he was not alone. I often held his hand as I sang, vocally matching the tempo of my songs with his breathing until he moved to a more relaxed state.

Christmas approached. I was scheduled off for one week over the holidays and would be out of the city. When I visited Jack on December 22nd he was very pale, frail, thin, and in and out of consciousness. I knew deep in my heart that this would be the last time I saw him. I tried to hold back the tears, but as I sang I softly wept. This man, who I really did not know all that well, had touched me in so many ways and taught me to appreciate each day and to celebrate the small moments, like laughing with friends and sharing stories; the importance of a compliment; and the power of my voice to bring pleasure to others. Jack passed on December 26th. I was honored to provide music at his funeral service. Jack often comes to mind during my travels around the nursing home. His memory always brings me a smile and a feeling of warmth that I was fortunate enough to have known this great Canadian. It also brings me a great sense of happiness knowing that even in his darkest hour, Jack knew he wasn’t alone and that each day still brought a beautiful morning.

Amy Clements-Cortes, PhD
Guest Music Editor

Amy Clements-Cortes owns and operates Notes by Amy Music. On top of being a university professor and researcher, she is also an accredited music therapist, singer and recording artist. She is past-president of the Canadian Association for Music Therapy and clinical commissioner for the World Federation of Music Therapy. Throughout her clinical experience, she has used her voice to guide patients through physical and emotional issues.

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