Because I am a music-thanatologist, people often send me links to articles about death and dying. This New York Times article from January 10 came my way last week.
It’s a beautiful article about a nurse named Martha Keochareon. When Mrs. Keochareon realized she was dying of of pancreatic cancer, she called Holyoke Community College and left a voicemail. In her message, she offered to speak with nursing students about the dying process. Two nursing students began to visiting with her.
The article includes a very moving video, which discusses the challenges of pain management. Just as I was watching and wishing that Mrs. Keochareon had access to music-thanatology for pain management, the video showed one of the caregivers begin to sing “Silent Night.” Mrs. Keochareon reached out to the singer and drew her arm close.
This is the song I often sing to my young son as he falls sleep. I have often explained the intuitive elements of music-thanatology by comparing it to singing a baby to sleep, but I have not seen the parallel so closely before now. Even these nurses, who have probably never heard of music-thanatology, somehow knew that singing might help with the pain. It is easy to see how music transformed that challenging moment.