A Healing Harmony

How music therapy helped a patient speak when words failed him.

Music therapy is an invaluable practice, helping provide solace and comfort during a patient’s hospice journey. By tapping into the incredible power of music, this therapeutic intervention addresses not only physical symptoms but also emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs. Hospice patients often experience complex emotions, and music therapy serves as a gentle companion, offering a safe space for emotional expression and release. Through carefully selected musical pieces, music therapists create a nurturing environment that promotes relaxation, reduces pain perception, and alleviates symptoms of distress. Beyond its physiological effects, music therapy for hospice patients enhances emotional well-being, fosters a sense of connection, and facilitates meaningful communication when words may fail. In the letter below, we learn how Tim* a BBH Music Therapist helped his patient John* reconnect with a beloved grandson:

“It is not often that I take the time to write a complimentary letter, but in a world where you mostly hear about tragedy and sadness, I find it important to share something good. 

Since September 2022, Big Bend Hospice has been providing palliative care for my husband John, who is inflicted with Frontotemporal Dementia with Primary Progressive Aphasia.

Before my husband’s dementia (and total loss of speech) came into our lives, I had never heard of music therapy. When Big Bend Hospice offered it, I didn’t know what to expect. However, in the last months, we have not only learned what it does, but I have witnessed the incredible benefit it has to its recipients and to all involved. As songs and music reach into patients’ deepest memories, much-needed healing, and tranquility occur. 

Today I want to tell you about how one of your music therapists, Timothy (Tim), also helped our family. Tim has been working with my husband, John, for several months as his music therapist. There were many visits when my husband did not want to see anyone, or even get out of bed. But that didn’t deter Tim. He would simply open his stool, bring out the guitar and begin to sing my husband’s favorite tunes sitting alongside his bed. Once the music began, my husband would eventually turn towards Tim and begin to tap his fingers to the music, and even smile. The effect was almost immediate. 

As it is often said, dementia affects the whole family. This is true on many levels, but I found it hardest on one of the grandchildren, whose longing for his grandfather’s words and love was filled with anxiety and tears. The adults explained as best we could what grandfather’s condition is, “Grandpa John loves you, but he can’t say it”. That simply was not enough. So, Tim did something that is above and beyond- not only because it was more than his responsibilities, but because he did it with such thoughtfulness and kindness. Only angels think to do such things. He wrote a love song from Grandpa to the grandchildren. Tim bridged the message our five-year-old needed to hear so badly. He composed, recorded, and presented it to us. A most generous gift.

Grandpa John and our grandson heard the song for the first time while eating brownies. As the music started, they both put their brownies down and listened to the words intently. “…My love is so much more than any words could say, you can feel it when I smile at you, or watch you while you play…The love inside my heart is there, it isn’t small at all…” and so the song goes. John reached out to the five-year-old and held his hand, tears rolled down both of their cheeks. Not a word was spoken but the message had reached both their souls. Grandpa loves me. They hugged and kissed for a long time. Music does heal. 

Now we know what music therapy is, not by theory but by experience. It is the notes, lyrics, and voices of angels that reach deep beyond the natural world to lift the spirit of those who are trapped in a world of which we know so little. It provides a way to communicate with those who have no voice. Tim is one of those angels whose compassion and love bring renewal to those who are in need. 

Some gifts sit on shelves and look pretty, but Tim’s gift to us will live in our hearts forever. 

We know Tim is leaving Big Bend Hospice upon his graduation, but wherever he goes in his journey through life, he will bring gentleness, kindness, and sweet melodies of healing. To us, he is an angel, whose talent is a gift to each one of us. He has given so much to our family, and there are not enough words to thank Tim. We will miss him.

Thank you, Big Bend Hospice, for sending the angels you send to us.”

Whether through personalized playlists, live performances, or shared musical experiences, music therapy brings joy, peace, and a deep sense of dignity to individuals in their final days, leaving a lasting impact on both patients and their loved ones. If you would like to learn more about Big Bend Hospice’s Music Therapy program, visit https://bigbendhospice.org/music-therapy, or if you would like to join our music therapy team, view open positions at https://bigbendhospice.org/careers!
If you would like to help support our world-renowned music therapy department, visit https://bigbendhospice.charityproud.org/Donate

*names have been changed to protect patient privacy.