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.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Leo's Story

Leonard's Story
A year and a half before the storm, Leo's wife died a difficult death from Breast Cancer, a cancer that would have been treatable if they could have been able to afford better health coverage. Leonard was a good man, but he was poor, as were most of his neighbors. His wife had been his soul mate- many considered them inseparable. Leo had just himself fought a long battle with prostate cancer, a battle he thought he had won.
Then the storm came.
Leo chose to stay home, rather than face the already backed up evacuation traffic. He also had all of his memories in that house- the thought of leaving was like the thought of leaving his wife all over again. The winds came first, shaking the small home where he and his wife had spent so many years. He listened as the shingles were ripped from his roof. Then the rain came. Then the flood came. It came fast- very fast. Leo climbed up into his home's small attic, but the water continued to rise. Like many New Orleanians, Leo kept a hatchet in his attic. He used that hatchet to cut a hole in the roof- not an easy task for a man approaching 80.
There was no light and the dark windowless attic. Daybreak had arrived through the storm clouds. As he chopped through the attic in the darkness, he saw more and more light shining through the hole. He knew that he was still alive for now. He climbed out onto his rooftop and as he sat on his rooftop island the reality slowly sunk in.
Everything was gone. Every picture and photo album was gone- everything that tied him to his wife was now under 10 feet of water and would never be recovered. Every record album, one of Leo's few indulgences, was gone. His home was gone.
And to make matters worse, as with many poor New Orlean's residents, he had to wait 3 days- 3 DAYS for rescue.
After he was evacuated he went to live with some family in Minnesota. After a month in Minnesota, he went to see a doctor. He was noticing some pain and other symptoms. The doctor did the tests and sure enough the Prostate Cancer had returned. It had metastasized everywhere and there was no possibility of treatment. He was given 3 months to live.

This is when I met Leonard- a few days after his admission to hospice. By this part of the story I couldn't imagine the pain and loss he felt.
“You have lost so much”, was all I could manage to say.
He sighed for a moment, and then said:
“I have lost a lot son. But you know what? I am a lucky man- the luckiest of all”.
WHAT??? I said to myself- how can this man call himself lucky?
“Lucky?”, I asked.
“Lucky”, he said.
I am Alive. I have my family- at least what I have left of them. I didn't die in that flood or end up like so many others there. I have this moment- this moment to listen to the leaves in the trees and the birds singing in them. I have this moment to breathe in this air. I have this moment to thank God for the life that I have- the live that I’ve been given. And now after a life of toils and snares, I am going to be with my Lord. I'll hold my wife in my arms again soon. I see now that the struggles I have faced have taught me so much. Now I know just how much being alive means. Things are just things- I can't take them with me when I go. I thought I would have rather died at home, but now I know I was meant to be with my family here. God gave me storms, but he gave me so many beautiful things. The storm put me on that roof, but it was God who lifted me off that roof when I thought I would surely die. That rescue crew was sent by Him- they had answered the call. And I know it is God who sends people like you to me now. Now I see God everywhere. You can't truly see the light, until you've seen the darkness.”

How many of us can say we have a faith like that?
Faith that through the storm there is light...
Faith that through pain and death, there is healing and life...
Faith that does not question why God allows suffering, but merely understands suffering as a part of this life. And that it's what we and others do with the suffering that matters.

Precious Lord, Take my Hand, lead me on, let me stand.
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light.
Take my hand, precious Lord, and lead me home.

- Song: Precious Lord, Take my Hand, by Thomas Dorsey

Monday, April 4, 2011


This is adapted from many sources and I do not take exclusive authorship. This is for a piece we are doing at Ridgeview's Service of Remebrance.

There was once a caterpillar. Since the time he hatched from his egg, he crawled around, climbed trees, and munched on leaves. All he ever ate was leaves. It was the only life he knew. He loved climbing and munching on his leaves. The more leaves he ate, the more he grew… and grew… and grew… and grew.
Each time his body grew, he would go through a change. His old skin would come off and he would have new, bigger skin waiting to come out. He had no idea that an even bigger change was coming.
When he grew as big as he could, he felt something in his body start to change. A shell began to form around him. Little by little it covered over his whole body.
The caterpillar knew something was changing. He knew he had to do this, but he was afraid. What was going to happen to him? Would he still be able to crawl around and munch on leaves when this was over?
As time went on in his little cocoon, the little caterpillar could feel his body changing, but he didn’t know what it was changing into.
Then one day his cocoon started to crack open. At first our friend didn’t know what to do, but then he began to push his was out. It was hard work, but he had to do it for himself. He pushed and pushed his way out. When he was finally all the way out, he felt completely different. He had only 6 legs, a longer nose, and what were these?
His wet wings were floppy, but over a few hours they grew out from his body.
What was this?
“How will I ever crawl like I used to? What will I eat now?” He asked himself.
He wanted to go back to being a caterpillar. Eating leaves and crawling was all he ever knew. Being a caterpillar was  all he knew how to be. But he couldn’t go back no matter how much he wanted to.
But then something happened. As he spread his wings, the wind caught them and lifted him right off his branch. What would he do now? Somehow he knew to flap his wings, and slowly he began to fly.
After a while he loved to fly. From the air, everything looked different than when he was just moving from leaf to leaf as a caterpillar. The world was a much bigger place than he ever could have imagined. Then he discovered something else. He liked to eat nectar from flowers- it was sweet and so good. Our butterfly friend had discovered a new life- and he liked it. Sometimes he missed the safety of being a caterpillar, but he loved being able to fly.
When someone we love dies, they are transformed from one state to another. We who remain are also changed. Just like the butterfly, our lives will never be the same as they used to be before our loss. As much as we may want to, we cannot go back to being that person we once were. But we can draw hope in our new life, wisdom from our experiences, and know to love all the more, those we love and the lives we share with them.