on death and music

Even though I work in a hospital, and even though I’m around sick people on a daily basis, and EVEN THOUGH I’m working in hospice… I have to admit that I haven’t really accepted that many of the people I bring music to have probably died in the time since I’ve worked with them. I don’t like thinking about it (I mean, who does?). At times I think it’s probably better that in almost every case, I don’t know who has passed away and who has been discharged from the hospital. It’s easier that way. The other thing is that I’m not really sure what death is yet – what it looks like, what it feels like, what it smells like, what it sounds like. I mean, again, nobody is, but when I look into the future and see that sort of a void, it’s enough to keep me firmly rooted in the present.

Sometimes, though, I get curious. Such is the case with a leukemia patient who I just looked up and found in the San Diego obituary section. Without disclosing too much, this gentleman was intermittently in the hospital from last November to January, diagnosed with leukemia. The first time I was referred to this gentleman by the nursing staff, I entered the room and before I could introduce myself, he sat up in bed and said “Is that a GUITAR?!” He proceeded to play my guitar for over an hour, singing and telling me about songs he learned while in the Marines during WWII. When I looked him up several days later, he had been discharged, and I felt a little disappointed – we had had such a good session, and bringing him my guitar to play had brought back so many pleasant memories.

Several weeks later in December, one of my co-interns came into the office saying she had met a woman on the elevator who noticed her guitar and asked “Are you Stephanie?”. When she said “no, but I work with a Stephanie”, this woman told her that the gentleman in room ___ wanted Stephanie to come visit him. Hmmm… I strapped on my guitar and headed up to said room, and there he was – re-admitted to the hospital. This patient had told his entire family (including his daughter, who was the woman who accosted my co-intern in the elevator) about our visit, and they all knew my name. I was flattered, honored, and of course, ready to make music!

As this gentleman was discharged and re-admitted to the hospital several times, the nursing staff knew to send us a referral whenever he was back. Each time they did, I went up there, guitar on my back, bringing drums, jingle bells (for Christmas), shakers – whatever I could find that he would play. I would sing through songbooks and play instrumens with his family, reminiscing about times from the past. His daughter wanted to take pictures of our session, which I consented to – and the next time he came to the hospital, I found a picture from that session among the pictures of his family. The joy that permeated the room during our sessions, however, belied a deep sadness. He was dying. The family knew it, I knew it from reading his chart, and I could see it in his eyes, in the way his energy level decreased every session, until he no longer had the energy to sit up in bed or to play an instrument. The last time I saw him, I arrived at his room to find the family waiting for transportation to bring him down to the car. He was going home, and by the way his family spoke, I knew it was for the last time. No more hospitals. Home, to rest. We sang “Country Roads”, a song I sang during our very first session together, and then he was gone.

Tonight I looked up and found his obituary on the San Diego Union-Tribune website. He died in late January. The short entry about his funeral services and arrangements contained this simple line:

“He loved music and enjoyed playing guitar.”

Yes. Yes, he did.

It makes me less troubled about his death to know that I made a difference at the end of his life. Sometimes you don’t know whether or not you make a difference.  This time, I know that I did.  I’ll never forget the way his daughter teared up as she told me “this is the happiest I’ve seen him in weeks”… “you’re the only thing that gets him to smile”.  She took his decline very, very hard.  I’ll be praying for her tonight.  It also helps me enormously to think fondly of him trying to play a D chord and not quite getting his fingers in the right place, getting frustrated at his declining motor ability despite my encouragement.  In heaven, he can play as many D chords as he wants, and they all sound great, and he is happy.  🙂  Rest in peace, my friend, and thank you.

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February 28, 2010 at 11:28 pm 1 comment

beautiful blog awards!

I got the RSS feed thingie figured out!  Hooray for Google Reader.  I tell ya what, just when you think you know it all about the internet, something like this comes along to let you know you actually know very little at all.  🙂

So I had the most wonderful honor of being awarded a “Beautiful Blogger” award by my AMAZING friend at so mellifluous:

YAY!  It’s good to know that someone reads this thing from time to time.  C – I am BEYOND EXCITED for you and all the opportunities you have in front of you, and I’m so lucky to have you as a friend.  🙂

This is apparently the protocol for persons who are nominated:

If you’ve been nominated, here are the rules:
1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog. (check!)
2. Copy/Paste the award to your blog (check!)
3. Tell us 7 interesting facts about yourself
4. Nominate 7 bloggers you love and link to their blog.

Seven interesting things about myself:
1) I.Have.Five. Weeks. Left. Of. Internship.
2) On a somewhat related note, the process of finding a job for post-internship is all-consuming and terrifying. (but that’s for another post perhaps?)
3) In the past five months, I have learned to play: ukulele, tibetan singing bowls, shruti box, native american flute.
4) I want to try surfing before I leave SD, but I’m not even sure where to begin looking for a way to do it.
5) I am left-handed, but I do gross motor tasks with my right hand (i.e. throwing, bowling, etc.), and I don’t play left-handed guitar or drumset.
6) I really miss playing marimba sometimes.  I haven’t done it in months.
7) I LOVE the self-serve frozen yogurt shops they have in California (you get to choose how much yogurt you get AND add your own toppings?! heck yeah!) and I’m hoping they have some in Texas, although I’ve never seen one before.

And now, some “beautiful bloggers”:
1) Mariko’s thoughts – I love this girl and miss her dearly, and I enjoy reading about her thoughts 🙂
2) As a runner (well, I try anyway), The Adventures of Runner Girl (and its fabulous author) makes me want to get off my butt, put those running shoes on and prance, prance, prance!
3) I like reading Life’s a Symphony, Play Your Part – one of my co-interns’ blog (she updates more than I do!) – because it reflects many of the same emotions I experienced during my first few months in SD.  I don’t even know if she knows I read, but – surprise!
4) Anytime I want to be inspired, I’ve been clicking over to the Music and Child Development Blog – lots of talented music therapists having AMAZING discussions about philosophy and how it translates into practice.
5) This College Town is the blog of my future sister-in-law, who is amazing well-spoken, talented, and an absolute joy to be around.  My brother’s a lucky guy!
6) Continuing on the music therapy blogging trend, I also enjoy reading Music Therapy Maven, which is an extremely well-written blog about all things MT.
7) I think I need this belongs to my friend who truly has an eye for design, and makes me also feel as if I need many, many things 🙂

Well, folks, there you go.  If you are the proud owner of any of the above blogs, you gotta:
1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog. (check!)
2. Copy/Paste the award to your blog (check!)
3. Tell us 7 interesting facts about yourself
4. Nominate 7 bloggers you love and link to their blog.

February 28, 2010 at 1:11 am 2 comments

the caffeinated squirrel gets a facelift!

Because procrastinating is a skill I refine with the passing of each day… I decided to give my bloggie a little makeover.  Not a lot of changes, but more color = more happy.  Also, in part due to a social networking project I’m doing for internship, I’m playing around with the RSS feed (on the side toolbar).  Obviously I don’t have the thing quite down yet, as right now it’s not working, but soon (hopefully!) I’ll know all about this far-fangled contraption.  Until then, pardon my dust!

New post re: the nifty award on my sidebar coming soon 🙂

February 27, 2010 at 11:50 pm Leave a comment

random thoughts

Well, folks, we’re down to 6.5 weeks, which means we’re almost to 6 weeks out of 26 remaining – 3/13 to be exact.  Exciting indeed.  It’s also the start of Lent tomorrow, which is always an interesting time of year in terms of what people are “giving up”.  It makes me chuckle to think that a few years ago I gave up caffeine…    how did I even do that?  Not sure.  For Lent this year, I am going to do what I attempted to do last year – say the Rosary once per day until Easter.  I learned so much last Lenten season about dedication, about meditation, about self-reflection, and I can’t wait to take the journey again and see where I end up this time.  🙂

One more random thought for tonight: I’ve been interested for two years or so in buying an mbira and learning to play, and I may have found one whose price is low enough to tempt me.  On Sunday I watched many, many Youtube videos of the traditional Shona mbira “student piece” called Kariga Mombe.  Learning so much just by doing some research and taking the time to listen.  It’s a beautiful thing, people.

Okay, off to Fort Collins, CO tomorrow through Sunday – going to Neurologic Music Therapy training to get learned/get inspired.  Enjoy the rest of your week everyone!

February 17, 2010 at 1:29 am Leave a comment

Eight weeks…

… until I’m all done with internship!  Hooray!

Paul was here this past weekend… and let us just say that I was extremely THANKFUL for his visit.  We had planned to go to Temecula Valley this past weekend to do some California wine tasting… and then this happened while we were traveling north on the I-15:

Good times!  A car about 30 feet up from us and one lane to the left kicked a sizable piece of wood that was on the freeway right into the passenger side of my front windshield.  Instead of sampling wines (don’t worry, we got that in on Saturday instead), I spent Friday with Paul in a shopping center mulling around waiting for my car to be fixed.  I honestly have to say that I have no idea what I would have done without Paul there.  Probably (aka DEFINTELY) I would have gone crazy/choked the person responsible for fixing my car.

We capped a pretty crappy day with an AMAZING meal at Jake’s del Mar, thus making it actually a pretty good day:

Oh, the pecan-crusted sea bass, rock shrimp couscous and FANTASTIC zinfandel.  I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it.  Anyway, Saturday wine tasting was quite rainy, but AMAZING and delicious:

Anyway, it really sucked to send him off today – I’m trying to focus instead on the knowledge that in less than two months (!!) it’ll be over and I’ll be home.  There’s just something about his presence – I feel less worried about the world, I hold less tension in my body, I stress less about the little things in life.  He truly is a calming presence, and I very much appreciate it.  🙂

Another weekend in the books, I guess.  The times they are a-changin’… I’m beginning to think about jobs… (that’s for another post though) and starting a new, professional life.  Got to get through this first though.  🙂  Night all!

February 7, 2010 at 11:20 pm 1 comment

Month 4

Obviously, given the infrequency of my posts lately, there’s a lot of stuff going on that I don’t – and in some cases, can’t – write about in a public forum.  I will share one thing with you, however: Month 4 has been, without a doubt, the hardest month of internship to date.

This is not unexpected – I was told this would happen by people who have been there and know.  January is just close enough to April to be over halfway done, but far enough away that 10 more weeks seems like forever (even though I’ve already done 16 weeks).  February will fly by – only 28 days, plus Paul’s visiting and I’m going to NMT training (a big HOORAY for both of those!!).  I have a feeling that March – the last month – will be a flurry of activity, me frantically trying to tie up loose ends, studying like a madwoman for exams, trying to take in everything I can about San Diego, flying back to Texas for my best friend’s wedding (an actual event, not a movie) … and then BAM! it’s April 2nd and it’s all over.  I’m back to Texas, finding a job, building a life.  Time marches on.

At any rate, right now I am trying desperately not to fall into burn-out.  At times I’ve been more successful than others.  More than ever I find that I need breaks in my day, I can’t go long periods moving from client to client without a lunch break, a coffee break – something.  When I get home at night, I have to fight every fiber in my being to do actual work and not curl up in bed.  I really have to fight my body’s urge to stay in bed in the morning as well – particularly on those mornings that I’ve been getting up to run.  Ahhh, running… currently my main tool against burnout.  That, and Texas athletics.

At the Music Therapy Center of California, a site where I’m currently working (and loving!), they use a “months of the year” song with some of the clients.  The song capitalizes on a technique called MMT (musical mnemonics training), which basically means that people have an easier time encoding memorizable information in their brain (e.g. months of the year) if  it’s set to music.  At any rate, there’s a set of flashcards that accompanies said song, each with the name of one month on it, and while the client is learning the song, the therapist sets out each flashcard in turn as a cue for the client.  What struck me about this the first time I saw it was not how remarkable MMT is (that came later), but actually how fast the months truly do go by.  Someday, when I look back on my time in San Diego, the months are going to go by in my head like six flashcards (“October… November… December… January… February… March”), one by one going on the table, each month the same size and taking up the same amount of space.  And then the song will continue and go on.  And right now, that is the most comforting thing in the world to me.  🙂

January 24, 2010 at 10:39 am Leave a comment

Time marches on…

… My dad used to listen to a lot of country music, and there was this one Tracy Lawrence song with the above title and the fantastic line “The only thing that stays the same is everything changes, everything changes…”  This is so, so true.  For one thing, my brother proposed to his beautiful girlfriend this weekend and I couldn’t be happier for them… 4 years of long-distance = major respect from me.  Two and a half years makes me want to pound my head against a wall sometimes 🙂

Something that I can’t explain happened to me over my all-too-brief holiday trip back to Texas.  I came back here in some ways exactly the same person that left a few days before Christmas, but in some ways I feel more mature now.  This may be because in addition to transitioning from co-leading to mostly leading sessions now, we’re also training two brand new interns!!  While this is fun and I really enjoy this newfound role, it is also stressful – I want to make sure I’m telling the newbies things they need to know,while cautiously leaving out things that will just be overwhelming at this point.  Anyway, every day is a new adventure, and getting used to that fact has made me better able to “just go with it”.  There’s something else though that’s contributing to this new feeling – I think I just became more confident while I was at home, spending time with friends/family… I began to think about all the things I wasn’t trying in my life because they were new or scary (or both), and I decided to (to the best of my ability) banish fear from dictating my life decisions OR my decisions in therapy.  For me, the hardest part of following my instincts is no longer deciding what my instincts are telling me – it’s actually growing a pair and following through.  🙂

At any rate, I’m working on it, and it’s slowly getting better.  I’m also drinking more tea than I used to (generally of the decaf or caffeine free variety at night).  I have fallen deeply in love with The Coffee Bean’s ginseng peppermint looseleaf tea.  It is heaven.  Perfect studying beverage if you don’t want caffeine but like the mental perk-up you get from the ginseng.  Also getting into green tea with kombucha – yum 🙂

Okay – going to bed, night night, have a wonderful week everyone!!  12 weeks to end of internship!

January 11, 2010 at 12:50 am Leave a comment

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