The Harp and the Ferryman: New book about Music-Thanatology

My colleague Peter Roberts, a music-thanatologist in Australia, has published a book called The Harp and the Ferryman. Co-written with Dr. Helen Cox, the book traces Peter’s journey from businessman to music-thanatologist, as well as the research Dr. Cox has done on the effects of Peter’s music on patients.  I had the pleasure of reading the book before it was published, and it is a moving account of this field and his work.

Peter’s recordings are exquisite.  Spend some time listening to the samples on his website.  You can learn more about Peter’s journey in this profile, “Compassionate Care Through Music.”

Youlo Pages: A guest post by Carol Lasky

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When Carol Lasky first shared her idea for helping people plan their legacy with me, it made perfect sense.  The world needed a creative tool for sharing our plans for the end of life. They also need a friendly community where death can be discussed in a way that isn’t frightening or too technical.

Carol was kind enough to send me a copy of Youlo Pages a few months ago. This is a beautifully-designed book that allows for an imaginative, practical recording of an individual’s hopes and dreams for the end of their life.

I asked Carol if she would be my first ever guest blogger at Harp Lady at the Hospital and she kindly agreed. Thank you, Carol, for sharing the story of Youlo Pages!


Introducing Youlo Pages

“If you don’t plan your own funeral, someone else will.”

They say that the best ideas, entrepreneurial and otherwise, are rooted in childhood. I vividly remember that my parents were very squeamish about the subject of death, having lost relatives to war, illness and Holocaust annihilation. They did their mourning behind closed doors and even forbade us from wearing the color black because of its connections to funerals. That’s why it stuck when my mother breezily mentioned to me one Sunday morning when I was 8 years old that she wanted a particular Mozart concerto to be played at her funeral. She wasn’t thinking about death as much as she was expressing herself and her personal connection to a beautiful piece of music.

Now, a member of the baby boomer generation and having arrived at an age that I never imagined possible, I’m thinking about death in a personal as well as cultural context. Societally, we know that 75% of Americans have not spelled out their ultimate wishes to anyone — including themselves. Yet, evidence abounds of new departures (so to speak) around Death. Palliative medicine is placing new priority on end-of-life conversations. The home funeral movement is becoming increasingly popular, following the growth and expansion of green funeral practices. A new company is offering to drop cremains from orbiting satellites, and another offers to stuff them into bowling balls. “Funeral music” is one of the most popularly requested online searches. A new reality show on TLC emphasizes the “fun” in “funerals.” In so many ways, people are increasingly willing — and eager — to share their stories, “last words” and personal intentions for remembrance and celebration.

I’m delighted to introduce, a multi-generational enterprise in mission as well as in fact. My partner is my son Colin, currently in his senior year at Yale University. We have recently debuted our first product, Youlo Pages. A unique legacy planning book, Youlo Pages links storytelling, giving, remembering and planning within the tactile and engaging format of a book that’s intended to be personalized, cherished, returned to and revised, dedicated and shared. We are looking ahead to its use in healthcare settings, in the offices of financial planners, elder care attorneys, life coaches and therapists, in faith communities, and especially, around kitchen tables. Our goal is to enrich understanding and connection between individuals and their family and friends. Youlo Pages is, according to one of our first reviewers, “…the opposite of morbid. It’s about the joy of self-discovery, something every one of us should celebrate.”

My own personal favorite part of our legacy planner is toward the back. We’ve included a set of cards for designating the most personal of gifts — things like signed baseballs, handmade quilts, recipe collections, the kinds of items that don’t end up in a legal will. The cards are filled out and placed in a special envelope for safekeeping. That’s really what Youlo Pages is all about: giving the gift of understanding.

I have another memory. It isn’t from childhood but from the death of my father two years ago. When Dad turned 90, we asked him to tell his life stories to a young journalism student that we knew. Over the course of a week, he regaled her with tales of his “lucky life.” In his last days, he was nourished by his words being read back to him by my sister. They are the finest things he could have left us.

We invite you to explore and Youlo Pages online: and Your feedback is warmly welcome!

Carol Lasky

Carol Laskythe Creative Director at Boston-based design firm Cahoots Design, is a brand strategy specialist. She co-founded Youlo with her son Colin Mills (Yale, ’13), making the venture intergenerational in fact as well as intention. Youlo Pages, the debut product, is the outgrowth of enlightening conversations with leaders of faith communities, spiritual advisors, healthcare practitioners, financial and legal planners, life coaches, family members and friends.  


Edge States –

For the last few days I’ve been listening to Krista Tippett’s remarkable conversation with Roshi Joan Halifax, founder and abbot of the Upaya Zen Center.  Roshi Halifax talks about “edge states,” when caregiver are overwhelmed by their work in caring for the dying, and the numbness that can result. Roshi Halifax talks about the ways in which contemplative practice can provide healing.

Compassion’s Edge States: Roshi Joan Halifax on Caring Better (On Being, January 10, 2013)

Silent Night

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.

As Nurse Lay Dying, Offering Herself as Instruction in Caring

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.

Music-Thanatology featured in Portland, OR news story

This is a great introduction to music-thanatology, with scenes from the bedside of patient visits and interviews with music-thanatologists. The video quality is not great, but it is still easy to see the beauty in these moments.

During one of the interviews, my colleague Laura Moya, who was a loan department manager before she trained as a music-thanatologist, jokes that, “Loan department managers don’t sing very often.” I’m a strong believer that most people have a secret artists’ life. Many music-thanatologists had very different professional lives before they decided to provide music for the dying. This video offers an interesting portrait of the meaning most of them find in their new work.

Dr. Ira Byock on On Being

Dr. Ira Byock was recently interviewed by Krista Tippett in an On Being episode called “Contemplating Mortality.”  You can read the transcript or listen to the interview online.

When I was a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, I had the opportunity to do a summer field education placement at the Missoula Demonstration Project, a community-based organization in Montana that Dr. Byock co-founded.  During that summer, I learned about the power of educating people about end of life care at the community level.  This interview offers many of Dr. Byock’s reflections on how to die well, as well as stories of what patients and families have taught him.