This month, I’d like to share a guest post by Carla Tanguay, MA, MT-BC, a music therapist currently working in Mount Desert Island, ME. In this post, Carla reflects on a session that she shared with a client who was on hospice care. Delicious Music is a beautiful story about the importance of the present moment, and how for many, it is all that exists.
The practice of mindfulness, a current buzzword in popular culture, is an ancient practice that teaches us to bring awareness and acceptance to the present moment. I have also worked with clients at the end of life who have memory loss, and am reminded how each moment shared together is critical to their quality of life. For people who have Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, trying to remember the past can be frustrating and counterproductive. Staying in the present is an anchor and a way of meeting someone in a safe shared space. When working with people who are dying, you never know which moment will be their last. Each interaction becomes a gift, a moment not to be missed.
In many respects mindfulness is what music therapists do with each and every client. Within our sessions, we are constantly observing how clients respond in the moment, acknowledging each experience, and adapting to changing needs. When we encourage our clients to slow down and experience what is happening right now, in music, we help them cultivate this awareness throughout their lives.
Practicing moment-to-moment awareness also helps us as therapists. Mindful awareness acknowledges that we have our own feelings, fears, and thoughts that occur during therapy, and teaches us to bring our full attention back to our clients. It encourages us to see each moment as a new opportunity to explore and connect with each other. Because when we are fully in the present moment with another person, healing occurs.
by Carla Tanguay, MA, MT-BC
Francis is wearing a plaid dress and white slippers with bright red strawberries. Her hair is thin and white, pulled straight back. The top of her head is streaked with orange, like a single bunch of long brittle pine needles gathered from her widow’s peak and spreading to her ponytail. When I say her name, she looks at me as if she knows me. Offers her smile as freely as a child. But we’ve never met.
“I came to see you today because I heard you used to sing in the choir,” I tell her.
“Oh” she answers. Her eyes are proud.
“You love to sing?”
“I love music.”
I unzip my guitar case and starting tuning the strings.
“What kind of music do you like?” I ask.
“Delicious music” she proclaims, all lips and tongue, as if she can still taste rich dominant sevenths.
As I finish tuning my guitar, I try to distill a hint of this ripened woman. Who carved those deep laugh lines in her eyes? Are her hands calloused from years of diapers and pins or fishing nets? What secrets did she whisper in her lover’s ear?
“Where are you from?” I ask.
“I’m not……” “I just don’t…..” She looks at me like she’s never thought about it before.
“The Bronx” her caregiver calls from the other room.
I start singing “East Side, West Side, all around the town…”
She catches it and holds on “…on the sidewalks of New York!” She laughs. “Yes, yes!”
We do this for half an hour. I start a song and she immediately joins in. Her eyes alternate between laughter and tears. Her strawberry toes are dancing.
I place a small harp in her lap and strum up the strings. She struggles to pull her hands out from under her nubby afghan.
“Now, let me just…” She reaches a finger out.
I reach my hand around to the other side of the strings and we dance around each other for a few moments. When her attention wanes, I find the melody to You Are My Sunshine. She hums along, her hand suspended in the air. She starts to sing “You’ll never know…” I chime in when she gets stuck, “…how much I love you…”
“What does that song make you think of?” I ask.
She looks down. It is there, but in a language she no longer understands.
“Maybe you used to sing it to your children,” I suggest.
“Maybe I did” she whispers. “Maybe I did.”
I don’t think Francis answered a single question about her life.
She’s 97 years old, but she only knows this moment.
And this moment is delicious.