By Sister Jane Urban, RSM
The woman whom I had visited in the Critical Care Unit just two days ago was in physical pain; the cancer had metastasized. Her nurse approached me as I entered the unit, requesting that I play for her. I asked the woman, whom I will name El, if she would like harp music. El smiled and whispered, “Yes.” For 15 minutes I played softly at the bedside. I watched El’s body relax as she closed her eyes to sleep. Upon leaving the room Doctor R, the critical care director, who was making rounds with the medical residents, jubilantly exclaimed, “It’s a miracle! El’s vital signs have stabilized. Thank you.”
Two men smiled, when they saw me near their doorway. “We heard you down the hall. Please come in.” I sat down to play spiritual mantras and familiar tunes. For the 20 minutes I delivered harp therapy, the gentlemen watched intently, and at times, accompanied me with their singing. “You know,” one of the gentlemen informed me, “us two (looking at his roommate) are seeing about our hearts this afternoon. We are having a heart procedure. We were feeling very anxious this morning. The harp music calmed us, and now we are ready. We are so grateful.”
Bimonthly I bring my therapy harp to Mercy Philadelphia Hospital, where I minister as chaplain. When a person has completed his or her final round of chemotherapy, I am invited to bring my harp to the Infusion Center. The emotional release through tears of joy and gratitude wells up within the person, and within their loved one(s).
The Emergency Department navigated to electronic documentation. One year later the entire hospital implemented the same format. On both of those transition days the staff requested the harp. I circulated throughout the hospital. A cradle of calm and peace ensued in the swirl of chaos, anxiety, and confusion. The staff expressed their appreciation. “My mind and body became so relaxed. What a great pause! Thank you for that gift,” one doctor verbalized. “It was the harp music that made the transition go so smoothly,” the hospital CEO stated.
As chaplain, as well as a certified harp therapist, I have the privilege of supporting the healing work in the healthcare setting. As part of a mind, body, spirit approach to wellness, music can play a significant role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and assisting in healing. In the delivery of harp therapy to patients, to family members, and to the worried well, the harp’s cradle of sound resolves tension, releases emotion, and spurs the healing process – to improve the health and quality of life.
In my encounters with the sick and suffering I experience the pastoral trust patients and staff place in me, as they share with me their inner landscape. The integration of pastoral care and harp therapy provide me the opportunity for God’s grace to unfold. I am privileged to witness the mystery of God in all who share their pain and loss, their life’s joys, blessings, wisdom, and experience with me. Being with the sick and suffering to support them in their life’s journey is the sacred work of pastoral care. The call to minister as chaplain and as harp therapist is transforming grace.
Sister Jane Urban is a chaplain at Mercy Philadelphia Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. As chaplain and certified harp therapist she incorporates harp therapy into her pastoral service.