Archive for the ‘Wow Moment’ Category


Today I finally experienced something that I’d heard about, but never really ‘accomplished.’ I know in harp therapy we don’t have specific goals (or at least try not to) and many times people are affected in ways we can’t see and will never really know about. Today, though, I had one of those experiences that make harp therapy sound really exciting. This is the kind of thing I wait to write about.

Firstly: entrainment – (of a rhythm or something that varies rhythmically) cause (another) gradually to fall into synchronism with it

I played for a patient who was breathing pretty rapidly, and she vocalized her exhalations like “hahahahaha” with five or six iterations at a time. She was also receiving a gentle massage at the time. I played to her breathing, for once getting over feeling awkward about not playing a specific song and just ‘noodling’ for an extended time. After about five minutes she closed her eyes. At about ten minutes, the pace had slowed noticeably – my tempo followed – and she vocalized only twice when exhaling. Then once. For a bit she let out one long groan. By the end, she was exhaling with one long, silent breath and was breathing much more slowly. She seemed to fall asleep – she stayed that way even when we left.

Afterwards, I felt so uplifted, not just because I felt I accomplished something with results that I could actually see, but because it was such a special time. I don’t know much about the patient’s background, but she was clearly more relaxed even if only for those few minutes – and however long after.

Rough Day

So the days have gone on. I’ve finally gotten into a kind of regular schedule after missing a couple weeks because of bad weather.

Today was a very emotional day for me. For the first time since I started with Compassionate Care, I started the drive home with tears in my eyes. One patient I’d been playing for for a while was having a rough time. I still don’t know enough to know if it was what they call “actively dying,” but her breathing was labored and erratic, and there were a few times during the session when I thought she may have gone. Her eyes were looking pretty filmy, like the man I played for a few months ago who was already gone, and she kept alternating between trying to sit up with labored breathing and resting back with seemingly no breath and rolling her eyes back. I lost track how long I played for her, but it was at least half an hour. I think closer to 45 minutes. A good amount of the time I played just simple, quiet, two- or three-note noodling, though I also played a few hymns very softly and slowly.

Sometimes she would lift her hands and point as if she were seeing things moving around. Once she seemed distressed and reached out to touch the harp. A couple times she reached out, and I had no choice but to take her hand. Once she squeezed my hand hard. Her eyes cleared for a moment when she looked right at me and said “Thank you.” She had never spoken to me before in the year or so I’ve played for her. She could acknowledge my presence sometimes and even smile when I played, but never said anything. It was an intense moment. I don’t think I will ever forget that.

Afterwards she continued to¬† act as she had before, not really focusing on anything, and breathing laboriously. It was hard to leave, but I felt I’d been playing an incredibly long time. She was still alive when I left the room. It was hard to go on after that, though. Immediately after an aide asked me to go into the activity room to play for that jolly bunch, but I had to take a breather. I did play for them, and for another half hour after that, but I found it difficult to maintain my normally bright demeanor. I wanted to go in and check on the lady again before I left, but the door was closed.


UPDATE 3/9: Yup I was right. She passed last night or this morning. I believe, given her reaction, she found some comfort in what we shared, so for that I am grateful. May she rest in peace.

Big happenings

Well so far I have not done so well with my New Year’s resolution, but, if at first you don’t succeed, try try try again. Or some such. I don’t believe very many people currently read this anyway, so hopefully by the time I do get any regulars, there will be enough posts to keep them occupied for a time.

I have been getting busier and busier with the NJ hospice. They send me every which way in NJ. It seems their largest populations are 45 minutes to an hour away! As much as I drive, though, the time really flies. It gives me a chance to catch up on some great music on XPN.

My online ethics course for BSH started a couple weeks ago. So far we’ve gotten to know each other and read a couple chapters. I’d say it’s going well so far, but nothing overly-enticing just yet. It’s tough for me to engage because I’ve never been much for writing (as you may well see), so after having done my assignments, I don’t usually have much to say to my classmates. They’re all very supportive and say things like “Oh what a wonderful response,” but that’s just not my style. I feel like my posts should be substantive, or non-existent. For those who don’t know me, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of gal.

Also in educational news, I’ve started taking lessons again. I was correct that I need to brush up on technical skills. My fingers got so confused at my first lesson when I had to pre-place them and use the fourth finger in my right hand. When I do therapy, neither of those techniques get much use. Already after my first official practice session, I feel a little better and more like a harp player. That is not to say that anyone who doesn’t worry about form isn’t one, it’s just that it personally gives me that extra sense of purpose. Or purposefulness, rather. I feel like I can give more of myself and my music to the patients by paying more attention. For me, the music comes pretty easily, and I’ve noticed myself slipping in focus even though pretty notes are still coming from my fingers.

Last but most certainly not least, I finally experienced my first death from the bedside yesterday. It is odd that I’ve been playing for people very near death for some time now, but had not yet been there at the final moment. It was most assuredly a sad time – the patient had many family members present, one of whom was wailing loudly the whole time (and I most definitely don’t mean that in a pejorative sense, I’m just not sure how to write crying/yelling politely). I was blocked from view most of the time, and I wasn’t sure when she passed. For all I know, she may have been gone by the time I got there. She didn’t look any different. I didn’t expect her to, of course, and yet – well some people speak of signs and such. I think there was just too much going on around her. For sure I had to spend a few minutes in the hallway to collect myself. One nurse was actually very kind and asked if I was alright. Sadly, the patient across from her passed while I was playing for someone else, and I hadn’t had a chance to play for him. I’m hoping he got some of my music from the hallway.

Song I learned today: “Santa Lucia” = traditional Neapolitan song. Recorded by Enrico Caruso, Mario Lanza, and Elvis (among many others). Hear it on YouTube. Learned at the request of a patient at Cardinal Village in NJ.

What to do?

Today I had one of those moments you hear about, but don’t really know what to do when it actually happens. I played for a woman who is apparently very close to passing. She had her eyes closed the entire time, though she did raise her head a open her mouth a few times. After about a half hour, I stopped and said farewell. I packed up to leave, and as I was walking out the door, she called out to me. She said “Hey!” I turned around, a bit baffled, and walked back over to her. I wasn’t sure what to do at this point. I asked if she needed anything – I think, or maybe I was just thinking of doing so. She had her eyes open now and was looking at me. I couldn’t read her expression, though her eyes were telling me something. I would like to think it was gratitude, but one of the first things we harp therapists learn is not to make assumptions, even if it is very likely. It seemed she may have wanted to say something else, but she couldn’t really speak. Maybe she didn’t have the energy. But she looked at me. I looked back at her.

I can’t help wondering if maybe I should have done or said something more. It seemed a bit presumptuous to say “You’re welcome.” So after looking at each other for I don’t know how long, I said “Ok I’m going now. Take care.” It seemed so hollow. I can only hope that she really was grateful and saying “Hey!” was her way of thanking me and sharing that eye contact was enough for her.

A Definitive Day

Today I had one of those harp therapy Wow moments. I played for a woman whose eyes could not focus and rolled up and whose jaw worked constantly opening and closing her mouth without end. I started slowly playing “Jesus Loves Me” and wonder of wonders, her jaw calmed down and she was holding her mouth shut. That sense of relaxation alone was pretty powerful. Then, she even started singing along. I felt this wave of – I don’t know what. Some emotion, excitement, joy, something. Tears definitely came to my eyes. She had obvious difficulty with it, but to know that she was still present and making such an effort was just so intense. We went through it a few times. Afterwards, the man who escorts me around the floor told me he’d never heard her speak in the three years he’s been there.

Every harp therapist has her or his stories, but to experience it, well I can’t even describe it. It’s a blessing. That’s for sure.