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.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Everybody’s Got The Blues- Jake’s Story

Jake was an 8 year-old boy, who’s mom had endstage pancreatic cancer. I met Jake for the first time a couple of weeks before his mother died. Jake was very angry the day I came to see his mother. He was lashing out verbally at relatives, throwing objects, and almost pushed a television over. It was a warm summer day and I asked Jake to come outside with me to talk. When we got outside, Jake started to yell about all of the things he was angry about. “My life sucks”, “my mom’s sick and she’s going to die”, “My dad left me when I was little”, “I’m going to be all alone when my mom dies”, “We family’s poor and I never have what other kids have- now I’m alone”, “I just feel like laying down right here and dying”. “Now this jerk comes here with a guitar and is supposed to make it all better- yeah right!” This was a child who was in a lot of pain. I wanted to help, but he was angry at me too. He was angry at everything and everyone, including his mom for dying. He had no constructive means to express these feelings, let alone examine these feeling- it was just coming out as pure rage.

In a bit of a risk as a therapist, I began to improvise a blues song over a blues pattern I played on the guitar, using the words and phrases Jake was yelling. At first he gave me an angry look, then a small smile came, then he laughed, and then the tears came. He said, “boy I know more about the blues than almost anyone my age in the whole world.” We started to write down the song and Jake was able to make changes to lyrics and guide the music. After a while he was talking about his feelings. He said, “I feel sad, but it just comes out as mad”. Over the course of 3-4 sessions we wrote his “Blues Song”. The end result wasn’t so important as the fact that he was able to express his feelings of anger and his grief in a way that didn’t involve breaking televisions. He was able to take these feelings, give them structure, and deal with them.
After his mom died, Jake wouldn’t talk to anyone about his feelings. His grandmother described him as “angry all the time”. For several sessions after the death, Jake refused to talk to me about his mom’s death. Instead, we ended up making music with keyboards and drums. This seemed to engender more trust even though it didn’t initially seem things were progressing. One day I entered the house with only a drum. He was arguing with his grandmother when I arrived. The three of us started talking about the anger. He said, “Sometimes I get so mad I just want to break something” I asked Jake how he would tell the drum how he feels. I gave him the mallet and he said, “What do I do?” I said, “Show the drum how you feel”. He warned, “I might break it.” I said, “I have more drums”. This model of Remo drum is almost indestructible- almost. I suggested he say something he was mad about and then hit the drum to show the feeling.
He wound up- “I’m mad because my mom died”. I held the drum far from me as he hit it very hard. “I’m mad because my dad left me” ---BOOM went the drum. “I’m mad because I’m all alone in the world” ---BOOM! “I’m mad at my friends for picking on me for being poor” --- BOOM! He went through a long list as my arm grew tired and my drum started coming apart. Then he ended by saying, “I’m mad at my mom” --- BOOM! “I’m mad at her leaving me”--- BOOM! “I’m mad at God for taking her away from me and making my life so hard”--- CRACK went the drumhead with the final swing. Then tears came again. We talked about letting feelings go instead of hiding them and that it was alright to feel sad, confused, or angry.
His overall anger at school and home was better after that point. We continue to meet from time to time and he is now open with his feelings. Jake faces many challenges in his life and has faced a lot of pain. This is the beginning of a very long healing process for him, but music therapy helped him get it started.

Here’s Jake's blues song:

Everybody’s, everybody’s got the blues
I said, Everybody’s, everybody’s got the blues
I’m gonna lay down on the ground, lay right down and die

Even though I got the blues, I know my life’s been good.
Even though I got the blues, I know my life’s been good.
If you’ve never met the blues, someday you’ll get the blues too

My family’s gone away, so now I’m all alone
My family’s gone away, so now I’m all alone
So all I want is something that will make me happy

My pappy never let me play, and so he went away
My pappy never let me play, and then he went away
Now I only see him on some certain days

*My mom got sick and died, so now I’m mad and cry
My mom got sick and died, so all I do is cry
All I want to know is why, why, why?

When you’ve got the blues, you don’t know when it will go away
When you’ve got the blues, you don’t know when it will go away
Even though I’m sad I hope it will be gone some day.

Even though I got the blues, I know my life’s been good.
Even though I got the blues, one day my life will be good.

*verse written after mom’s death, the rest of the song was written before mom’s death.