Songs of Transition

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| New York Times Health.

Photo Credit DeAgostini/Getty Images

“Have you ever been there when someone dies?” people ask when they find out I play the harp and sing for dying patients. It is the same tone I hear when someone asks, “Do you think you will have more children?” They want to talk about it, but they worry that the answer might be a secret. When I tell them I have been there at the moment of death, though not as often as they might suppose, they ask, “What is that like for you?”

I tell them it is intense. I wait to see if they would like to hear more, or if they have their own story to tell. I am a music thanatologist, trained to offer music in a prescriptive way, to create a calm space for dying patients and their families. I focus on the patient’s breath as I play the harp and sing. With this rhythm as my guide, music can echo and reflect the dying process. The patient leads the music vigil with his or her breath, right in the middle of the hum of machines, the trill of cellphones, and the voices and…

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