Welcome to my Blog

This Blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences as a music therapist and human being working with people at the end of their lives in hospice. In my experience I have seen some amazing things- things that have given me a glimse of something bigger. I have learned that in our suffering, in our doubt, there is also room for beauty and a deeper sense of the divine. Music taps into the rhythms of the earth and at the same time transcends it. I want to share my experiences from the past and from each day moving forward. Hopefully one or two people will find it interesting. Please visit my Web-sites at http://www.nielsenmtbc.com/ or http://www.musictherapycd.com/

Please note that I take client confidentiality very seriously. Names and sometimes other details have been changed to protect the identities of my clients.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Side by Side- The gift of meeting Elizabeth Edwards.

"I know right now what I will die from. Breast Cancer will take my life". These were the first words in her speech. It was at a fundraising event for Ridgeview Medical Center's Women's and Children's Center. Elizabeth Edwards continued to speak about her own battle with cancer in ways that minced no words. She offered many insights into her struggle. She was obviously not well, yet she had a certain radiance about her smile.

So a week before this I was asked by the Ridgeview Foundation to come up with a song that they wanted everyone to sing to Mrs. Edwards at the upcoming event. They wanted the theme to be something about our connections to each other, something about camaraderie, something about it being all of our responsibilities to care for one another. "Hmmm", I thought, what to do, what to do?

This could be cool or a complete disaster.

After a lot of thought, I made a list of songs: "Lean on Me", "Stand by Me"... at the end of the list, for the heck of it, it occurred to me to add the song "Side by Side", a song from the Great Depression era (lyrics below). I wasn't the most fond of that idea.

So a couple of days go by and I get an Email from the Foundation. After they, and the CEO and others reviewed the list, a phrase from "Side by Side" caught their attention: "Oh we ain't got a barrel of money". This seemed perfect for a fundraising event. So they chose Side by Side. The event was actually several events that required a lot of "healing" types of music. I said I couldn't do 4+ hours of background, plus lead this song. So Micheal Monroe was hired to play for part of the event.

So here I am- I'm going to sing for a Senator's Wife, possibly a future First Lady (let's not even go there right now), and I have to sing "SIDE BY SIDE". REALLY- of all the music in the world it's that song?! To 500+ people? And to top it off I was going to do this in front of Micheal Monroe?! REALLY???!!

Boy was I wrong.

How many times had I told people ALL music has that capacity to be healing? I guess I needed this lesson to be driven home to myself that day. So she gives a most eloquent and beautiful speech, and then it's my time to lead this group of 500 people in song. Before we do, the CEO of Ridgeview, Bob Stevens talked to the crowd. He spoke of how here in Minnesota we believe that we are all connected and that we care for each other "through any weather". He asked all the people gathered to hold hands; to think about all the people they are connecting to and to all the people in our community we are reaching out to connect with.

We were in a brand new, but as yet unfinished and cavernous section of a new Addition to Ridgeview. Suddenly this cavernous structure was filled with a warmth, there was a palpable energy shift. I thought to myself, I wish there was another piece of music I could use right now. But this was the music that was chosen. The words were put up on the LCD screens. As I hit the first chord on the guitar I suddenly knew that this was exactly the song we were meant to sing in that moment. So we sang the song together, 2x through:

Oh we ain't got a barrel of money.
Maybe we're ragged and funny.
But we'll travel along, singin' a song,
Side by Side
Don't know what's comin' tomorrow
Maybe it's trouble and sorrow,
But we'll travel the road, sharing our load,
Side by Side
Through all kinds of weather, what if the sky should fall?
Just as long as we're together, it doesn't matter at all.
When they've all had their quarrels and parted,
We'll be the same as we started,
Just travelin' along, singing a song,
Side by Side

The energy in the room was magical... like you could physically feel the bonds that connect us as human beings. I've only felt it a few times before: at a Lakota sweat lodge, at an interfaith memorial after September 11th (topic for another story), and now here.

After the song there was a moment of complete and total peace in the room. I felt a hand at my back and turned around to be embraced by Elizabeth Edwards. I felt her tears on my shoulder and then saw she had tears streaming down her face. I looked out and every face had tears, not of sadness, but of a bond to each other- a sharing of many healing journeys. Many in the crowd were cancer survivors, families, and caregivers. The tears were also a part of this shared understanding that in every story, and in every struggle, there is an opportunity to heal, and an opportunity to help. It didn't matter what age we were, what gender we were, what race we were, or what political party we were: we were one people standing "Side by Side". After our hug, she said to me, "That meant more to me than you can imagine, thank you". I sensed something very deep there, but let it go.

It was the reminder to me: ALL music has the potential to create sacred space where healing can happen.

Afterwards Micheal Monroe said, "That was really cool". It really was. Before I started the song I was worried I might embarrass myself in front of a musician I had great respect for. How silly was that?

At the end of the event, Mrs. Edwards handed me a copy of her new book, "Saving Graces". Inside the wrote and signed an inscription: "To the marvelous Christian- your gift of music is a true saving grace. Thank you for sharing it with me". She was such a kind woman and I am saddened to hear of her loss. But I am so happy I got to know this brave, kind soul.

Elizabeth Edwards saw much more than her share of "trouble and sorrow" in her life: the loss of a son, the loss of her marriage and the humiliation Mr. Edwards caused her. But she kept on. While the tabloid vultures attacked her, she just continued on in her efforts to advocate for cancer, women's health issues, and health care for all. We have lost a brave fighter in the war on Cancer and in the fight to end poverty, and I know she will be missed by many.

I pray that she and her family, including Mr. Edwards, were able to find some healing in these last days, and that her family will continue to find healing in the days to come. I hope she continued to feel, even in the media frenzy, that there were many there to walk beside her and others who face terminal illness. I pray her life taught others that carrying the load of others is a true "Saving Grace", and the responsibility of all of us.

"We shouldn't spend our time concerned about our dying, but concerned with how we will live however much life we have left."