Published on March 16, 2012

Connecting With Music: Music Therapist for Hospice Shares Story

Music therapist Katey Krull plays her guitar at the Clarissa C. Hospice House in Bettendorf.

Music therapist Katey Krull plays her guitar at the
Clarissa C. Hospice House in Bettendorf.

I entered the room not knowing what to expect, as I usually feel when I meet a new patient. There sat a woman, reclining in a chair, giving little response to my questions or greetings.

I sang and played my guitar to songs that were popular when she was young. Her breathing relaxed, and I saw a smile open on her face.

I was packing up when a man walked in with the softest voice, and as I would soon discover, the biggest heart. He greeted me and told me he was her husband, and he came every day. I asked him if there were any songs he wanted me to play. He requested a hymn, so I played “How Great Thou Art.” I ended up staying another 45 minutes.

In that time, the man felt more connected to his wife and held her hand while I played familiar love songs. He said, “She’s holding my hand. She hasn’t done that in a long time.” He was in awe and asked that I come every week.

I saw the couple every week, for about five months. There were times I would ask his wife questions and she would respond, which she rarely did for anyone. I explained to her husband that the music helped her to relax and from there, she could open up and verbalize in ways she couldn’t when she was anxious. The music became a connection for the couple. The man talked to me about their entire life, road trips they had been on, and the notes he left her when he would leave for work in the mornings.

I arrived one day and a handwritten list of songs was sitting on top of an old hymnal. Her husband said, “I went through the book and wrote down the ones I thought she’d like.”

Music therapy had given him a new purpose in their relationship. He tenderly looked at his wife while I sang many of the songs I knew on their list. Their favorites were “He Leadeth Me’’ and “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less.” Later in our sessions, I found out they had gone to numerous Don Williams concerts. From then on, we sang “Amanda” almost every week.

As his wife’s disease progressed, more issues of death came up. He did not understand Alzheimer’s disease and how it progressed, so I informed him and comforted him. He would cry nearly every week and apologize but found comfort in the hymns. We would discuss the words and when the chaplain came, he read words from the book Isaiah in which the song “He Leadeth Me” is derived. In the last few weeks of her life, her husband would call me late at night and say “Katey, could you come tomorrow?”

The drive to the nursing home was very familiar now, and I would arrive and provide relaxation for both patient and spouse.

After the patient died, I received a card from her husband thanking me for our visits. He said he knew his wife was always listening. It was very special to hear those familiar songs again that had meant so much to them. I talked with the nurse to ask how he was doing. She thought he was doing very well, but if it weren’t for the music, she didn’t think that would be the case. The music and fellowship meant a lot to the couple. The comforting words of hymns and familiar songs brought up topics they would have been reluctant to discuss.

He disclosed a lot of information during our sessions that I would pass on to the hospice team, including a letter he shared with me that his wife had written when she knew she was dying. He gave me a copy and allowed me to share it with the rest of the hospice team.

These are the types of experiences that make music therapy so rewarding.

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