Entering the room I take notice of all the subtle cues around me. The lighting is low. A family member curled in the recliner has an iPad, telephone, books and magazines, and bottled water within arm’s reach. It is clear she is prepared for a long wait. There is also a red, well-used address book open. I can tell it has already been put to use for contacting friends and family members. Everyone who needs to know is aware of what is to come. The vigil has started.
On the other side of the room in the hospital bed is a thin man, eyes closed and breathing rapid, deep breaths through his open mouth. I remember his face from many casual encounters with him and his wife over the last few years. He always looked very handsome and elegant, even in a wheelchair. He always seemed to enjoy the commentary provided by his wife as she talked about the changing landscape on the Davis campus. His distinguished career remained a part of his commanding presence. Although he had lost the ability to communicate with words, his obvious joy in listening to classical music CDs and the conversation of others gave a hint of his former life.
There is a reverence in the household today. Over the weekend, two long-term care residents began the journey to their final home. Both men have been in our care for a long time and they and their families have become a part of the Davis family. The looks of concern on the faces of the caregivers encompass more than their love for the residents. They wish to provide the extended family support and love during this transition too. It is a shared loss but the roles are clear. Every caregiver who comes in the room to provide care does their jobs, but today I notice an intense tenderness, and perhaps a little more sadness, as they realize the hours of caring for people they love are drawing to a close.
Although I spend most of my days managing the marketing functions for the campus, coordinating volunteer projects, and making strategic contacts for the organization, I have a different role this morning. My training as a therapeutic bedside musician is being put to use as I prepare to create a calming environment for two people who are dying. I play a lever harp. When plucked, the long strings of the harp create rich vibrations that can affect respiration, heart rate, anxiety and other physical and mental states. In this situation I play music without a steady beat to allow the resident to relax without expectations.
I am incredibly humbled to be brought into this very close circle of family at this most intimate time in their lives. I play without a break for more than an hour, one tune flowing after another. Some of the music is created spontaneously as I watch the breaths of the resident rise and fall. Nurses and CNAs come into the room to apply cool cloths to the forehead of the man in the bed, doing their work in a dance of caring that is both ethereal and efficient. From the corner of my eye I seen the daughter’s eyes close and when I look up again, she has crossed the room and joined her father on the bed, resting her head on his frail shoulder. It is imperceptible, but for an instant I am aware they have communicated on some level that none of us will ever comprehend.
When I slip out of the room with my harp, I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to provide a moment of solace for father and daughter. Walking back to my office, I look into the trees around me with humble eyes and see an explosion of color I hadn’t noticed before. The circle of life is making itself known.
A third-generation Wilmington native, Julie Rehder is marketing and public relations administrator for the The Davis Community in Porters Neck. The not-for-profit Davis Community provides quality assisted living, skilled nursing, rehab and wellness services to aging adults in a loving, continuum of care environment. The campus is celebrating its 50th year on July 1, 2016. For more information about The Davis Community, go to www.thedaviscommunity.org, www.facebook.com/thedaviscommunity or call (910) 686-7195.
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