Why He Cares About Sharing Music with Hospice Patients

sharing music with hospice patients

Early on in childhood, we are taught we have five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. As little tikes, our senses were slowly fine-tuned as we saw our kindergarten classmates, heard our parents’ encouraging words, smelled the flowers in a window box, salivated in anticipation of tasting a Sunday morning stack of pancakes, and knew that when we rested our heads on the pillow to expect a goodnight hug and kiss from Mom. As time marches on and we age, so do our senses. When we bid adieu to this world, what is the last sense to go? Hearing. Therefore, it is easy to understand how important this sense can be for people at the end of life. And that’s why sharing music with hospice patients can be a valuable resource in their care.

Sharing Music with Hospice Patients

Meet Father Christian Villagomeza, who knows firsthand how sharing music with hospice patients can affect care. Not only does Father Christian spiritually assist patients, primarily at LifePath Hospice, but when appropriate and with family permission, he introduces music into the care mix.

“Sharing music with hospice patients can truly be a blessing,” said Father Christian. “It helps to establish rapport and provides a special bond. Music is a great way to put patients and families as ease at this time in their lives.”

sharing music LifePath Hospice

If visitors happen to be at the Melech Hospice House in Temple Terrace they might catch a glimpse of Father Christian with his guitar at various times throughout the week. Although he happens to personally own a couple of guitars, this particular instrument is quite special. In 2004, when Father Christian was a member of one of LifePath Hospice’s home teams, he had a patient who owned a guitar. The gentleman would strum the strings of the guitar but not really play any music. In his chats with this man, Father Christian found out something interesting.

“I discovered that my patient had the guitar for a very long time but never learned how to play,” shared Father Christian. “In our time together, even though it was difficult for the patient due to his illness, he still tried to learn how to play his guitar.”

Over the years, Father Christian has met many people in the community. One particular family came to mind due to an invitation to attend and play the guitar at a funeral service. When he arrived, Father Christian was shocked to discover a surprise leaning up next to the coffin: his friend’s guitar. “Attached to the guitar was a note with explicit instructions that said no one should touch the guitar but me. My friend wanted me to have his guitar, “said Father Christian with a smile as he recalled the day. “Then I played this guitar during the service and honored his wishes.”

sharing music with hospice patientsSince that day, the inherited guitar has been played to spread the joy of music to others. “What is quite an interesting and unexplainable fact is that I have not changed the guitar strings in more than a decade, and it is still in tune,” confessed the Father Christian. “There’s a higher meaning going on.”

Not Just About the Guitar

Over the course of any calendar year, music is present at all the affiliates of Chapters Health—Good Shepherd Hospice, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice.  From employees who tinkle the ivory on a keyboard and volunteers who serenade soothing tunes on a harp to community members who strum the strings of a dulcimer and groups who bring the holidays to patients by singing Christmas carols, music makes a difference.

Music touches everyone in personal and unique ways. Music helps patients and families recall a time in their lives when their hearts were filled with joy and fond memories. Additionally, a study published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine found that the multidimensional nature of music resonates with the needs of patients at the end of life.

“I find that music is an antidote to nervousness especially when the patient and family are faced with end-of-life situations,” stated Father Christian. “Music decreases and defuses anxiety across generations.”

A group at Case Western Reserve University confirmed Father Christian’s observations. The researchers provided music 20 minutes daily for three days, and it significantly decreased anxiety in the hospice cancer patients participating in the study.

The benefits of music can extend well beyond the end of life of a hospice patient. According to Father Christian, once a loved one passes, the family finds comfort and solace in music. “For families and friends left behind, music and meaningful songs help the grieving process,” concluded Father Christian.

At Chapters Health System, every day is devoted to educating our patients and keeping them in the place they call home. We are dedicated to ensuring that patients, young and old alike, and their families are able to make educated decisions about important healthcare matters. For more information, please call our helpful Chapters Health team at 1.866.204.8611 or send an email to info@chaptershealth.org

About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Corporate Communications for Chapters Health System, manages all content and communications for the not-for-profit organization.

A Video is Worth a Thousand Words

It’s no surprise that Father Christian has loved music his entire life. And believe it or not, he is a self-taught musician. Actually, Father Christian plays by ear as he can’t read sheet music.

At the tender age of 5, Father Christian asked for a guitar. His father went to the store and returned with an accordion. “I was disappointed that I didn’t get a guitar, but I learned how to play the accordion,” reflected the chaplain. “After the accordion came a ukulele, and finally I did get a guitar.”

When asked to name his favorite song, Father Christian confessed that his musical interests and tastes reside in many different genres and it was difficult to choose. But when pressed, he said Jim Croce’s “Say I Love You with a Song.”

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