Music for the Dying…

The breathing was labored, but the room was quiet. Outside were the voices of staff doing their various good works. Inside there was a person completing the last leg of their journey with Alzheimer’s. Slowly but surely the time to go was coming. When Alzheimer’s takes someone it’s most often like this, quiet, very little sense of trauma, as if the disease was trying to apologize for all the crazy rough stuff along the way it decides to let go slowly, gently even into that good night.

A little voice inside said it was time to visit, to play a bit of music and to sing for the dying person down the hall. I even cut my program for the living a bit short so I could attend at the bedside and do something, perhaps, to make this part of the path a little lighter.

I’ve shared music with all kinds of people in my life from the time I was in grade school until now in my middle age. Some have applauded, some have not, some have told me how good I was and others have told me that I just didn’t “fit” in their group. I’ve made music for audiences that rocked and audiences of quiet older people just trying to stay awake. Still, the music for the dying, this audience of a single person most often without the capacity for response, are the most important audiences of all because yours is the last music they might hear.

So what to do? A little beautiful noodling to start, nothing to complex because this is no place to try to riff some experiment. Then what? Your heart has to be the guide and mine said “Simple”. Amazing Grace, done slowly with the intent to make sure the music doesn’t drown out the words. All the verses because they’re all that good. Then Jesus Loves Me for the very same reasons and who is more weak and in need of Jesus’ strength than a person who is dying. Finally a little more beautiful noodling and one more verse of Jesus Loves Me.

Then silence, the continued labored breathing, and the sound of the nurses in the hall doing their charitable work. No applause, not even someone opening their eyes. Yet that’s okay. A hundred years from now no one will remember even if I had somehow managed to score a Top 100 hit. I pray, though, that in some way the person on the bed across from my chair remembers, and perhaps God, too, on that soon coming day. It’s time to rest, this person made in the image of God from their labors and me, for a short while, to take a break before the needs of others need attention.

Inside, I wish I could cry. Outside, I put on my best smile and head out of the room and down to the hall to the others waiting for me.

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