By Maggie Finley, MAPS, BCC
My vocal and recorded repertoire includes not only hymns, but also songs from The Great American Song Book that are familiar to folks from the Greatest Generation. Vintage songs are the soundtrack against which they grew up, met, fell in love, fought war, married and raised children.
It is also my experience that with patients exhibiting language reversion (i.e., reverting back to the language of their birth) music is often a bridge. I visited German, Italian and French native speakers who reverted, all of whom seemed to relax and respond favorably to songs sung in their mother tongue. In each of these instances the patients demonstrated memory and speech loss or physical decline.
Without a doubt, singing familiar hymns is well-suited to communion or other paraliturgical prayer services for individuals or groups. But there were other ways in which I was asked to bring my arts expertise to bear on organizational identity.
The skillful use of arts was considered to be a valuable asset in delivering agency-wide reflections/invocations at hospice fundraising auctions and meals as well as corporate meetings. In the wake of the largest major layoff in the history of Providence Hospice, leadership commissioned chaplains and bereavement counselors to partner in crafting ritual to begin change agency by acknowledging the transitional losses incurred during the period of sweeping organizational change. In the skilled nursing and assisted living facilities where I visited hospice patients often, I was welcomed into ecumenical worship.
Hospice chaplaincy and bereavement teams shared a common language in expressive arts, fostering a lot of collaboration in creating ritual environments for grief and prayer groups using musical, cinematic and literary sources. During such sponsored events, we used multimedia production to instruct as well as create emotional impact using PowerPoint, audio CDs, iPods and even live performance. Obviously, all of this production and tech support is to be applied with great sensitivity and a deft hand.
Providence Hospice of Seattle grasped the great fit between media and bereavement services, geared as it was to community outreach: for referrals apart from the hospice experience, for those whose English was a second language, or for multifaith events. Less obtrusive digital iPod and iPad technology has decreased the effort it takes to adapt audiovisuals for therapeutic application.
And although one of my gifts was vocalizing by the bedside, other chaplain colleagues used PowerPoint to enhance ritual prayer for pediatric patients as well as others who requested or responded well to visual meditation (e.g., patients confined to computerized wheelchairs with Lou Gehrig’s Disease). During my tenure with hospice, Human Resources and Marketing also seized on live and mediated arts as an effective dissemination tool. I personally represented the Spiritual Care Department in a video shot for new-hire orientation. I penned a dramatic piece I presented in tandem with the hospice’s touring photo exhibit “Portraits of Healing.” Seattle Repertory Theatre later underwrote the piece as an intermezzo to “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
I’m not too surprised by how much can be accomplished by using the creative arts to nurture the spirits of our patients. I resonate with those mystics who believe the voice is endowed with spiritual energies emanating from divine wisdom itself, and so I would advocate for the ongoing mining of ancient wisdom traditions that propose the power of the human voice to open consciousness and penetrate the soul.
Maggie Finley, retired hospice chaplain, ministered for seven years at Providence Hospice of Seattle in Seattle, WA. She served patients throughout King and parts of Snohomish Counties. Providence is a non-residential hospice, so she visited patients and families in their homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living residences, and occasionally in hospital settings.